South Korean hostages held by Taliban return home

( Reuters ) - Two weary-looking South Koreans, held hostage for about a month by the Taliban in Afghanistan returned home on Friday, hoping for the safe return of 19 others who remain captive.

The Taliban freed the two women on Monday, the first captives to be released since insurgents seized 23 Koreans from a bus in Ghazni province on the main road south from the capital Kabul last month.

"I only hope for the release of the others," Kim Ji-na, a 32-year-old animation instructor, said just after arriving at Incheon airport, which serves Seoul.

Looking tense and tired, and with their heads held low, the two showed no signs of joy or relief.

"Thank you so much and I'm so sorry for causing worries," said the other released hostage, Kim Kyung-ja, a 37-year-old software company employee, in comments carried by local TV broadcasters.

Authorities barred foreign media from covering their return at the airport, citing security concerns.

After making brief comments, the two were taken to a military hospital for medical checks and to reunite with relatives.

An official at the Christian church in the suburb of Seoul that sent the group to Afghanistan said neither it nor the relatives holding vigil there had any comments.

Family members of the other hostages gathered at the church to watch TV broadcasts of the return and burst into applause when they saw the two freed captives appear for the first time.

The group went on its mission despite warnings from the South Korean government not to journey to the strife-ridden country.

Taliban insurgents have killed two male hostages and said the release of the two women was a goodwill gesture.

The relatives of the two apologized when they were released on Monday, saying they would not rest until all the others still held captive were freed.

Taliban insurgents and South Korean officials began a new round of talks on Thursday at the Afghan Red Crescent Society building in Ghazni, the first since the two women were freed.

The Taliban have threatened to kill the hostages, most of whom are young women, if their demand to free insurgent prisoners is not met. The Afghan government has refused to let the prisoners go, saying that would encourage more kidnapping.

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