Thursday, July 26, 2007

Pray for Bae Hyuing-kyu, and the other Taliban hostages in Afghanistan

Story by Canada's Globe and Mail

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN -- Taliban extremists killed a Korean hostage yesterday, escalating a high-stakes demand that the Afghan government capitulate and release imprisoned insurgents.

Police found the bullet-riddled body of the Korean man yesterday evening. A South Korean public broadcaster, KBS, identified the victim as 42-year-old pastor Bae Hyung-kyu, leader of a group of 23 Christian evangelicals touring war-torn Afghanistan when they were seized last Thursday.

There were reports as many as eight other Koreans had been released, but Mirajuddin Pathan, governor of Ghanzi province, where the body was found, denied them, saying, "No one has been released, and there has not been any exchange. They are still in Taliban custody."

Mr. Pathan said authorities were in contact with the kidnappers, trying to secure the Koreans' freedom. The militants gave a list of eight Taliban prisoners whom they want released in exchange for eight Koreans, he said. The Taliban at one point had demanded that 23 jailed militants be freed in exchange for the Koreans.

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi said by telephone from an unknown location that a new deadline had been set in the hostage-taking. "If the administration of Kabul is not ready to release our hostages, then by 1 a.m., local time, the rest of the hostages will be killed," he said.

However, the deadline passed without reports of further deaths among the hostages.

The discovery of the corpse near Mushaki, not far from where the bus carrying the Koreans was stopped July 19, confirmed an earlier claim by Mr. Yousuf, who said the hostage had been executed. He initially blamed the killing on the failure of President Hamid Karzai's government to meet an earlier deadline. But he also claimed, in another telephone call, that the man had been killed because he was sick and couldn't walk.

Whatever the reason, the execution dramatically raised the stakes.

Far more than the middle-aged German engineer killed last week, the Koreans - 18 of whom are young women - are likely to engender widespread public attention, giving the Taliban a powerful negotiating hand.

Mr. Karzai, who released five Taliban prisoners this year to secure the release of an Italian journalist, insisted then that there would be no more deals to free hostages. However, an Afghan official involved in the negotiations said earlier that a large sum of money would be paid to free the hostages. No other officials would confirm this account. Foreign governments are suspected to have paid for the release of hostages in Afghanistan in the past, but have either kept it quiet or denied it outright.

Taliban insurgents have been instructed to kidnap as many foreigners as possible, the Islamist militia's new military commander said in an interview broadcast yesterday.

Speaking to Channel 4 News from an undisclosed location along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, Mansour Dadullah, who took over from his brother Mullah Dadullah after he was killed by coalition troops in May, said he advocated kidnapping foreigners to trade them for Taliban captives. Mansour Dadullah was one of those released in exchange for the Italian journalist.

Mr. Karzai's refusal to deal with the Taliban if they kill the Korean hostages in succession may pose a severe test, especially if international pressure to negotiate a deal becomes intense.

Today, South Korea denounced the killing of one of its hostages and said it was sending a senior presidential envoy to try to free the 22 remaining captives.

"The South Korean government bitterly deplores the killing of a South Korean national by kidnappers in Afghanistan. The kidnappers blamed for the killing will never avoid all responsibility for that inhumane act," said the statement from the office of President Roh Moo-Hyun.

"Murder of an innocent civilian can never be justified," it added.

Mr. Bae, 42, co-founded the Saemmul Presbyterian Church in 1998 and is a pastor there; he has a young daughter, the Korea Times said. He had done volunteer work in Bangladesh in April and planned to visit Africa to help the poor after the Afghanistan mission.

More than 1,000 people were gathered yesterday at the church in Bundang just south of Seoul when the Taliban's announcement of Mr. Bae's killing was confirmed.

"No! No!" shouted some. Many others wept.

Mr. Bae is the third Korean victim of Islamic militants in as many years.

A series of recent kidnappings prompted the Afghan government to forbid foreigners living in Kabul from leaving the city without police permission.

Police said officials stationed at checkpoints at the city's main gates would stop foreigners from leaving the capital unless they informed officials 24 hours in advance of their travel plans, said Esmatullah Dauladzai, Kabul's provincial police chief.

South Korea, which has a non-combat contingent of about 200 medics and support troops on a U.S. base, had previously announced it was pulling out by the end of the year.

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