A South Korean woman aid worker held by Afghanistan's Taliban gave up her chance of freedom so that another woman could be released in her place, two freed hostages have said.
Kim Gi-na and Kim Kyung-ja made the disclosure in an interview with Al-Jazeera TV from the military hospital where they have been staying since they returned to Seoul on Aug. 17.
Lee Ji-young, in a remarkable act of self-sacrifice, volunteered to remain in captivity because she has more experience living in Afghanistan, they said in an interview aired on Thursday evening in South Korea.
"We were very worried when we heard that Ji-young volunteered to be left behind," Kim Gi-na said.
"But the Taliban allowed Ji-young to write a letter to her family which consoled her and gave her some hope that she would come home soon," Kim Gi-na said.
Lee had been doing volunteer work in Afghanistan since December. She had been acting as a guide to a group of aid workers from a Seoul church who arrived in the country in July.
"Don't worry about me as I am very well, eating well. Please stay healthy and be at ease," Lee's letter read, according to local news reports.
Lee's mother Nam Sang-soon told reporters tearfully that the letter, delivered by Kim Gi-na and Kim Kyung-ja, "makes me feel as if I met her in person. She is worried about me even when she is going through tough times herself."
"She is always considerate of others and kindhearted. I am very proud that she gave up her place for others. It is an agony for us every day and night to wait for her return," Nam said.
The government has shielded the freed pair from the media since they returned, and this was their first interview.
Kim Gi-na and Kim Kyung-ja were released in what the Taliban called a goodwill gesture as negotiations between the insurgents and South Korean officials in Afghanistan got under way.
The guerrillas seized 16 female and seven male aid workers on July 19 as they traveled by bus through insurgency-plagued southern Afghanistan.
They killed two of the men to press demands for the release of jailed insurgents, a demand rejected by the Kabul government.
The pair, clad in hospital pajamas, said the relief they felt at their release was overshadowed by the plight of the remaining 19.
"You probably think we are happy now, with our families. In fact, we can hardly sleep at night," Kim Gi-na, 32, said.
"I understand that Islamic teachings give priority to life and family. Please release our coworkers as soon as possible," she said.
The women said they had not been badly treated by the Taliban and "were given basic things such as food, medication and some blankets."
They urged the insurgents to free their colleagues as soon as possible and said it was painful to leave them behind.
"Rather than being happy, my heart was breaking," Kim Kyung-ja, 37, said. "I was thinking of the remaining 19 hostages."
The women said they had been doing volunteer work at a hospital in Mazar-i-Sharif and had planned to continue working at a hospital and kindergarten had they reached Kandahar.