Thu, Sep 13, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Former S Korean captives describe journey into hell

SUFFOCATING Speaking to the media, many of the hostages said they were suffering psychological trauma from what the Taliban inflicted on them

AP , ANYANG, SOUTH KOREA

Lee Sung-eun, one of 23 South Koreans kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan, right, weeps during a press conference with fellow former hostages at a hospital in Anyang, South Korea, yesterday.

PHOTO: AP

The 21 South Koreans held hostage by the Taliban in Afghanistan said yesterday that the insurgents beat and threatened them with bayonets to force them to convert to Islam during their six-week ordeal, with some being forced to work like "slaves" for their captors.

"We were beaten by them many times, being forced to convert to Islam," Je Chang-hee told a news conference with 20 other fellow ex-hostages at a hospital south of Seoul, where the Christian volunteers have been receiving medical treatment since they returned home early this month.

"They kicked us and beat us with guns and tree branches. Sometimes, they aimed their bayonet-topped rifles at our necks," Je said, adding that he had been held in a mountain cave with three other hostages. "Overall, our lives were not easy."

Twenty-three South Koreans were originally seized on July 19 from a bus heading to Kandahar. Two of the male hostages were killed during the standoff, but all were eventually released late last month after direct negotiations between the South Korean government and the Taliban.

The hostages' return has been greeted with relief tempered with outrage. They have faced harsh public criticism for traveling to Afghanistan to do missionary work, although their church has insisted the trip was only to provide humanitarian aid.

One hostage recalled the last moment she saw Bae Hyung-kyu, a 42-year-old pastor and leader of the group, who was found shot dead on July 25.

"One day, a Taliban called Bae and checked his first and last names and took him out of the room," said Han Ji-young, a female hostage who was held in a small group with Bae.

"Bae didn't even look at us when he was leaving the room. He only said, `Overcome with faith,'" she said, crying.

Park Sang-eun, who has been treating the hostages, said they had recovered from physical injuries but that they needed more treatment to deal with possible depression and other mental problems.

The former captives were released from a hospital yesterday and moved to a rehabilitation center.

"The most difficult moment, when I had a big fear of death, was when the Taliban shot [the] video," Yu Jung-hwa, a female hostage, said in a trembling voice. "All 23 of us leaned against a wall and armed Taliban aimed their guns at us and a pit was before me."

"They said they will save us if we believe in Islam. I almost fainted at the time and I still cannot look at cameras," she told the news conference packed with photographers and TV cameras.

Je declined to confirm that some of the female hostages had been sexually assaulted, instead referring to earlier comments by a church pastor who mentioned the assaults.

The hostages said they were kept together for the first three days of their captivity but were later separated into several small groups and moved often. Some detailed the grim conditions they endured.

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