GHAZNI, Afghanistan Taliban militants released the last seven South Korean Christian hostages Aug. 30 (Pacific time) whom they had been holding in Afghanistan since July 19, ending a 42-day hostage crisis of a 23-member missions group.
Shortly after taking the hostages in July, the Taliban killed two men, then they released two women in early August.
The rest of the hostages were freed in three separate groups hours apart, beginning with the release of three women, then four women and a man, and finally three women and another man, the International Herald Tribune reported. The hostages were handed over to South Korean officials through the Red Cross.
The Korea Times reported that the chief church pastor said the Bundang-based church, which sent the aid group to Kabul, will reimburse the government all financial costs related to freeing the hostages, such as airfare and transferring the dead bodies.
The commitment from the church came after the government announced that it will seek compensation from the church as all costs linked to the 41-day hostage crisis came from taxpayers' money.
It is the first time the government has sought compensation from any organization in Korea for freeing hostages, the newspaper said.
According to ABC news, the men escorting the last hostages gave an unsigned note to journalists accusing the South Koreans of coming to Afghanistan on a mission to convert the staunchly Islamic country to Christianity.
"They came to our nation to change our faith," the handwritten note read. "The Afghan people have given their lives for their faith. This is the reason we arrested them."
The South Korean government and relatives of the hostages, all of whom belonged to a Presbyterian church close to Seoul, have insisted they were not engaged in missionary activities, but were doing humanitarian work such as helping in hospitals, ABC news reported.
The South Korean Christians had gone to Afghanistan as part of a 23-member mission trip sponsored by Saemmul Presbyterian Church just outside Seoul, but their effort was cut short July 19 when Taliban militants stormed their bus and captured the group.
South Korea agreed to meet face to face with the Taliban, and on Aug. 28 South Korean officials announced they had reached an agreement to allow for the release of the remaining 19 hostages. As part of that agreement, South Korea pledged to keep its promise to withdraw its troops from Afghanistansomething it previously had announced it would doand also to ban South Korean Christian missionaries from going to Afghanistan.
Some Afghanistan government officials have said they fear the dealand the fact that the Taliban likely will view the kidnappings as having been successfulwill lead to more kidnappings.
"One has to say that this release, under these conditions, will make our difficulties in Afghanistan even bigger," Afghan Commerce Minister Amin Farhang told a German radio station, according to the International Herald Tribune. "We fear that this decision could become a precedent. The Taliban will continue trying to take hostages to attain their aims in Afghanistan."
Many evangelical leaders have expressed mixed feelings about the deal.
"I am delighted that they are being released," Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page told Baptist Press. "But I am saddened about some of the conditions for the release. I had encouraged the Koreans not to negotiate with terrorists, and had hoped that they would be released out of sheer human kindness and/or military intervention. While the statement is made (by the South Korean government) that missionary work will stop, God's work will not stop in Afghanistan."
Religious leaders are considering how this might affect short-term missions.
BP news and wire reports contributed to this story.