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2 South Korean Hostages Return Home From Afghan Ordeal

17 August 2007

Two South Korean hostages released by Taleban insurgents in Afghanistan have returned home. They say they are sorry for causing their fellow citizens to worry, and are calling on the Taleban to release the 19 other aid workers captured with them last month. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.

Appearing visibly drained from their weeks as hostages, Kim Kyung-ja and Kim Ji-na arrived at South Korea's main international airport Friday.

The women were part of a Christian volunteer group that was kidnapped last month by Taleban insurgents in Afghanistan. The kidnappers executed two male hostages, and 19 other hostages remain in captivity.

Each woman made a short statement to South Korean reporters.

Kim Kyung-ja says she is very sorry for causing worries, and thanks the South Korean government for helping her return safely.

Kim Ji-na echoed that sentiment. She apologizes, and thanks the government and people for their efforts in securing her freedom.

Both say they hope the Taleban will release the remaining 19 captives as soon as possible.

Negotiations between the Taleban and the South Korean government have foundered for weeks. A self-described Taleban spokesman says the two women were released without conditions, as a gesture of goodwill.

The insurgents demand the release of Taleban comrades being held in Afghan prisons. South Korean officials say they do not have the authority to make that happen.

The U.S. and Afghan governments say they will make no concessions - arguing it will only inspire more hostage-taking. Some South Koreans have criticized Washington and Kabul for adhering to that stance, and government officials in Seoul call for a "flexible" approach in dealing with the hostage-takers.

However, there has also been strong South Korean criticism of the hostages themselves, who traveled to Afghanistan in defiance of a South Korean government ban. South Korea contributes several hundred non-combat personnel to U.S.-led international efforts to stabilize Afghanistan after three decades of conflict.

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