South Korea’s government and Taliban militants said Tuesday they had reached a deal to free 19 South Korean hostages held captive held for more six weeks in Afghanistan.

According to news reports, South Korea agreed to demands to withdraw 200 of its troops stationed in Afghanistan and suspend missionary work in the country.

Taliban insurgents seized 23 South Korean church volunteers as they drove through Ghazni province July 19. Two of the hostages were killed, and two others were released after a previous round of talks.

The United States welcomed reports that the hostages would be released but declined to comment on terms of the agreement until further information is known. “U.S. policy is not to make concessions to hostage-takers,” State Department spokesman Tom Casey told reporters.

Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page said the news about the hostages elicits mixed emotions.

“I have prayed for the release of these hostages,” Page, pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C.,  told Baptist Press. “I have spoken to persons within our own government about this situation. I have spoken with several persons in the Korean Christian community. So, therefore I am delighted that they are being released.

“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.”

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