Sat, Aug 18, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Ex-hostages arrive home

IN THE DARK The two women freed by the Taliban as a `goodwill gesture,' had been separated from the others and did not know that two colleagues had been shot

AFP , SEOUL

Two female aid workers freed by Afghanistan's Taliban returned home yesterday to South Korea, after learning for the first time that two fellow captives were killed during the nearly month-long ordeal.

Kim Gi-na and Kim Kyung-ja looked shocked and traumatized when they briefly appeared before TV cameras after landing at Incheon airport west of Seoul.

"I'm sorry for causing so much concern for the people," Kim Kyung-ja, 37, said in her mumbled remarks. "I hope all the remaining hostages return home at the earliest possible date."

Kim Gi-na, 32, said: "I only hope all the remaining people will be immediately freed."

The pair were among a group of 23 South Korean aid workers, including 16 women, who were seized by the Taliban on July 19 while traveling by coach through insurgency-plagued southern area of Afghanistan.

The guerrillas shot dead two male hostages to press their demands for the release of Taliban prisoners, a demand rejected by the Kabul government.

The women, who were freed on Monday, were told only when they started their long journey home that the two men had been shot dead, a government official who accompanied them told Yonhap news agency.

"They did not know until after they were freed that two other hostages were killed," the unidentified official said.

"They learned of the two deaths only after they began heading for home on August 16. They were shocked and traumatized at the news and were lost for words for a while. They wept for half an hour," the official said.

The hostages had all been separated into small groups and moved frequently to frustrate any rescue mission.

The women met their brothers on board the plane before they headed into the terminal, YTN TV reported. After their brief remarks, they were seen walking hand-in-hand to an ambulance which took them to a military hospital for check-ups.

Kim Gi-na and Kim Kyung-ja were released in what the insurgents called a "goodwill gesture" after the Taliban had begun negotiating directly with South Korean government representatives in Afghanistan.

The pair underwent medical check-ups at a South Korean military base at Bagram in Afghanistan before flying home.

Foreign media were barred from the terminal for what were described as security reasons. Officials have said they want to limit the women's exposure to the media for fear of jeopardizing the safety of those still in captivity.

Negotiations on Thursday for the release of the remaining 19 made no progress, according to the Taliban.

The South Koreans were on an aid mission organized by Saem-Mul Presbyterian Church in Bundang in suburban Seoul. Its leaders have apologized for organizing what critics called a reckless trip.

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