Freed hostages recall Afghan ordeal

South Koreans describe being threatened with death unless they converted.

The hostages have recovered physically but are still suffering psychologically [AFP]

The 21 surviving South Korean Christian volunteers who were held hostage by the Taliban in Afghanistan for nearly six weeks have recalled how they suffered at the hands of their captors.

Speaking at a press conference in Anyang after leaving hospital, Yu Jung-hwa said how she and her fellow hostages felt terrified when her captors lined them up and threatened to kill them if they did not convert to Islam.

All 23 of us leaned against a wall and armed Taliban aimed their guns at us, and a pit was before me

Yu said: “All 23 of us leaned against a wall and armed Taliban aimed their guns at us, and a pit was before me.

“They said they will save us if we believe in Islam. I almost fainted at the time and I still cannot look at cameras.”

Taliban fighters originally seized the 23 South Korean missionaries in July, but killed two of them during negotiations with Kabul and Seoul.

The rest were eventually released after the South Korean government promised to withdraw its small contingent of troops from Afghanistan and prevent any more missionaries from working there.

Hostage killed

Han Ji-yong, a young female hostage, described the last time she saw Bae Hyung-kyu, a 42-year-old pastor and leader of the group, who was found shot dead on July 25.

“One day, a Taliban called Bae came and checked his first and last names and took him out of the room,” she said, breaking into tears.

“Bae didn’t even look at us when he was leaving the room. He only said, ‘Overcome with faith’.”

Je Chang-hee, a 38-year-old hostage, said the group had “lived like slaves”.

He said: “We had to level the ground for motorbikes, and get water [from a well] and make a fire.

“We were beaten by them many times, being forced to convert to Islam. They kicked us and beat us with guns and tree branches.

“Sometimes, they aimed their bayonet-topped rifles at our necks.”

‘Like suffocating’

The hostages were freed near Ghazni
at the end of August [AFP]

The hostages were split into small groups of three by the Taliban and Cha Hae-jin said her group was kept in a closed place which resembled a shed.

“It was like suffocating,” the 31-year-old said.

She said the food was bad and the captives vomited and suffered diarrhoea, with some showing signs of dehydration.

“Four of us once had to share two potatoes for one day,” Cha said.

Although the former captives have been declared physically fit and allowed to leave hospital and return to their families, a doctor who had been treating them since their release said some may still need psychological counselling.

Many of the hostages confirmed they were suffering from psychological trauma.

“We were confined during our captivity. Now I feel sharp pains all over my body and can’t sleep well. I am taking medicines now,” Yu said. “My emotion is not normal.”

Yu and the 20 other captives who survived were moved on Wednesday to a rehabilitation centre from the hospital where they were being treated in Anyang since they arrived back in the country on September 2.

Dangerous environment

The hostages returned home 10 days ago to a mixed reception, with the relief at their release tempered by heavy criticism of their church for sending its members into a dangerous environment.

While they again apologised for the trouble they had caused, the hostages showed no sign of wanting to give up missionary work if they were allowed to continue.

“We understand the Christian community is debating that,” Lyu Kyung-sik, another former hostage, said when asked if they would return to trouble spots to do missionary work. “We’ll follow the decision.”

The government has faced international criticism for negotiating directly with the kidnappers.

A senior Taliban leader had said after the hostages’ were freed that Seoul had paid $20m for their release.

South Korea’s spy chief has refused to deny his government paid a ransom.

Dr Park Sang-eun, who has been treating the hostages, said they had recovered from physical injuries, but that they needed more treatment to deal with possible depression and other psychological problems.

Source: News Agencies


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