གཟའ་སྤེན་པ། ༢༠༢༤/༠༤/༢༠

Returning Korean Hostages Offer Thanks and Apologies

All of the South Korean hostages who endured more than six weeks of Taleban captivity in Afghanistan have arrived back home. The hostages say they are sorry for causing the ordeal, and grateful to those who helped end it. VOA's Kurt Achin has more from Seoul.

The 19 hostages arrived early Sunday morning to a media blitz at South Korea's main airport following a stopover in Dubai. As national networks broadcast the event live, the former captives bowed together in respect.

Acting as a spokesman for the group, Yoo Kyung-sik offered an emotional apology. He says the hostages are sorry for causing pain and worry among fellow Koreans, and offers thanks to everyone who helped set them free.

Taleban insurgents captured Yoo's group of 23 South Koreans nearly two months ago after they had traveled to Afghanistan to do Christian volunteer work.

The insurgents murdered two male hostages after South Korea failed to arrange the release of Taleban prisoners. A few weeks later, two women were released. The rest were freed last week after controversial negotiations between South Korean officials and the kidnappers. Yoo says due to the conditions of their captivity, many of the hostages did not know about the killings.

He says the hostages need time to deal with the tragic news, and asks members of the public and media to give them and their families some distance during an initial period of healing.

The older brother of Bae Hyung-ku, one of the men killed, said the arrival of the group marks a period of closure. He says family members have delayed holding a funeral for the two victims until the remaining hostages were released. Now, he says the group can mourn together.

The former captives headed straight to a hospital, where they will receive psychological and medical care in the company of their families. A spokesman for the families says they will speak to the media at some point in the future.

The South Korean government's negotiations with the kidnappers caused controversy internationally, because many governments argue it will only encourage more kidnappings.

South Korea's Foreign Minister says he did not make any secret deals with the Taleban, and has not acknowledged paying any form of ransom to the kidnappers.

The government says Taleban insurgents agreed to the release after Seoul promised to withdraw its small contingent of non-combat military personnel from Afghanistan, and to ban missionary work there. However, the withdrawal from multinational stabilization efforts was long scheduled to take place, and South Korea already bans travel to Afghanistan.

The former captives made their trip in defiance of the ban. South Korean authorities say the former hostages and their families will be held responsible for costs related to their release.