The families of 21 South Korean Christians held captive by the Taliban in Afghanistan lashed out at President Bush and Afghani President Hamid Karzai for failure to negotiate an end to the 21-day-old hostage ordeal.
Bush and Hamid Karzai agreed Monday at a Camp David summit there would be no concessions to the Taliban to win release of South Korean Christian aid workers taken prisoner when gunmen boarded their bus traveling from Kabul to Kandahar in the Ghanzi Province July 19.
Two of an original 23 hostages have been shot. Their captors have threatened to kill the rest of the hostages–members of the 5,000-member Saemmul Church just south of Seoul–unless the Afghan government releases Taliban prisoners in exchange.
South Korean diplomats have been sent to Afghanistan to negotiate with the Taliban, but South Koreans pinned most of their hope in the United States. The U.S. has key influence with the Afghan government it set up after toppling the Taliban regime in 2001.
The U.S. doesn’t want to make a deal with the Taliban, believing it to be connected to Al-Qaeda, the group behind the 9/11 terrorist attack.
“President Bush reiterated that the Taliban must release the remaining Koreans held immediately,” national security spokesperson Gordon Johndroe said as the two leaders wrapped up two days of talks on the security situation in Afghanistan.
“The United States has been working to the extent possible with the Afghan and Korean governments in urging that the hostages be released,” he said. “There will be no quid pro quo, the Taliban cannot be emboldened by this.” he said.
Media reported that family members gathered at the church where the volunteers were based broke into tears when they learned what was said at the U.S.-Afghan talks.
“We could not sleep at night due to our expectations, as the release and safe return of our families depended on the two leaders’ summit,” said a joint statement from the families quoted in Agence France-Presse. “But the summit, which failed to concretely touch on the families detained in Afghanistan, made insufficient effort to actively save precious lives.”
The family of one hostage put a video clip on YouTube showing a young husband writing of his sorrow that he could eat and sleep while his wife and mother of their children is in distress.
A purported Taliban spokesman said through Afghan Islamic Press the summit between Bush and Karzai failed to produce any practical results and repeated threats to kill the hostages unless the group’s demands are met.
South Korea’s foreign minister said the hostage ordeal could drag on for weeks.
Kidnappers have already killed two male hostages. The first, 42-year-old Bae Hyung Kyu, was a youth pastor at the church and leader of the mission group. His bullet-riddled body was found July 23. A second, 29-year-old Shim Sung-min, died from a single gunshot wound to the head. His body was found left along a road July 30.
Sixteen of the remaining 21 hostages are women. The Taliban has said it is prepared to swap women hostages for female prisoners linked to the group.
Some Koreans have criticized the group for going to Afghanistan to preach about the Christian God, ignoring warnings by their government that it was too dangerous. It is illegal to share the gospel in Afghanistan under the Taliban.
The church’s pastor said the volunteers weren’t on an evangelistic mission but rather went to Afghanistan to provide free medical and educational services to ease Afghan suffering in a country torn by war.
“There are some who misunderstand us, but we didn’t attempt any aggressive missionary activities,” said Park on Monday, Park Eun-jo told the Korean newspaper The Hankyoreh.
Religious leaders around the world called for release of the hostages on humanitarian grounds.
A British Baptist editor said it was naÃ¯ve of the Korean missionaries to think they were “immune from terrorism” or they “could do any good at all in a 10-day hit and run mission trip,” and their capture has made life more difficult for long-term foreign workers already there.
“We have all thought this,” wrote Baptist Times Editor Mark Woods, “but now that it has been said we can simply acknowledge the depth of the need in which they find themselves, and pray for them as brothers and sisters in Christ. They are people of enormous faith, or they would not be in this situation at all.”
Woods said the hostages and their families “should be in the prayers of every Baptist church as their long ordeal continues.”
“So, too, should Afghanistan itself, where in conditions more hostile to the Gospel than perhaps anywhere else in the world, Christians maintain a faithful witness,” he continued.
President Bush on Monday said civilian casualties show what kind of enemy the United States is fighting in Afghanistan. “The Taliban are the cold-blooded killers,” he said. “The Taliban are the murderers.”
Sen. Hillary Clinton, a leading Democratic presidential hopeful, said Tuesday the 21 South Korean hostages are in her “thoughts and prayers” and extended “deepest sympathies” to the families of the two dead hostages.
“I am hopeful that all of the remaining hostages will be released in good health as soon as possible, and I call on the government of Afghanistan, the Bush administration and the rest of the international community to work together with the government of South Korea towards such an outcome,” she said.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.