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Taliban Demands Prisoner Swap for Koreans

Posted July. 23, 2007 03:05,   


The last contact with the kidnapped members of the Saemmul Church in Bundang, Gyeonggi Province was made in the afternoon of July 19. They had arrived in Afghanistan on July 13 for volunteer activities.

The evangelical activists departed to the southern part of Kandahar by bus from Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan at 3 p.m. on July 13. One of the group members made a phone call at around 5 p.m. to an official of the Eunhyesaem Kindergarten, saying “We are on our way to Kandahar.”

However, there was no contact from them even many hours after their expected arrival time. The church reported it to The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT), which promptly launched an investigation to confirm it.

The Afghanistan government presumes that the Koreans were kidnapped between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. on July 19 when they made their last phone call.

The kidnapping was first reported by Reuters on July 20, one day after their disappearance. “South Korean Christian volunteers are feared to have been kidnapped in Afghanistan by Taliban insurgents,” the news agency reported. “We are trying to confirm it through various channels. But considering a variety of circumstantial evidence, chances are high that the report is true,” an official of the MOFAT was quoted as saying by Reuters.

The government immediately established a task force within the ministry and set up an on-site supervision headquarters at the South Korean Embassy in Afghanistan. It also held several emergency meetings to draw up measures.

Tensions reached the highest intensity when foreign media outlets reported the Taliban’s warning that they would kill the abducted Koreans unless Korea withdrew its troops from Afghanistan until noon on July 21 (KST: 4:30 p.m.).

President Roh Moo-hyun urgently announced a message at 2:30 p.m. on July 21, two hours before the deadline on the execution date set by the Taliban. “Our government is prepared to conduct a negotiation with the related side with utmost sincerity for the immediate release (of the kidnapped Korean nationals.)” President Roh’s speech was broadcast throughout the world through local broadcasters and CNN.

However, the Taliban militia made no announcement even after 4:30 p.m. There was also no media report on it. Yet, the sense of crisis escalated once again when the militia announced the killing one of two German hostages at around 4:50 p.m. Ten minutes after the statement, an official of the Taliban announced, “The Korean hostages are still safe thanks to the Korean government’s active attitude.”

The Taliban made a new demand at around 11 p.m. on that day, “Unless 23 imprisoned Taliban fighters are released by 7 p.m. on July 22 (KST: 11:30p.m.), the 23 Koreans will be killed.”

A task force, dispatched by the government, arrived in Afghanistan on Sunday afternoon. The foreign media began to report that a military operation had begun to rescue the hostages, creating a stir over the authenticity of the reports. However, the government confirmed that it’s groundless.

“In order to free the hostages, we are contacting (the Taliban militia) through a number of channels. We are at the moment discussing each other’s demands.”

gold@donga.com myzodan@donga.com