Cheers and apology greet S.Korea hostage release

SEOUL (Reuters) - Relatives cheered and hugged each other after being told on Tuesday that 19 South Korean hostages held in Afghanistan by Taliban insurgents for nearly six weeks would be released.

They also apologized to the nation, in a statement broadcast across South Korea, for the trouble their church caused by sending the mostly inexperienced Christian volunteers into one of the world’s most dangerous areas.

Relatives have been holding vigil at the Saemmul Church, outside Seoul, since the hostages -- most of them women -- were seized in the Afghan province of Ghazni.

“The families are rejoicing at the news. They are busy calling other family members and friends at the moment to pass on the news,” Bang Yong-kyun, pastor at Saemmul Church, told Reuters.

“We knew the negotiation process was turning favorable, but we never thought it would happen so soon,” a spokesman for the hostage families, Cha Sung-min, told reporters.

“When the announcement came out, there was a commotion in the room as everyone hugged each other.”

Asked what they will do when their loved one finally come home, he replied:

“We will do what we weren’t able to do during the incident. We found out that the everyday routines were the most precious moments. Eating breakfast together or having slices of fruit after dinner.

“Those insignificant things are what we treasure the most.”

Two male hostages were killed by their captors and two of the women have been released.

South Korea is the biggest source of missionaries after the United States, many of them flocking to the world’s hot spots.

Church leaders have been sharply criticized for allowing enthusiastic but ill-trained members to travel by bus in Afghanistan.

There have also been pointed questions about the sensitivity of South Korea’s rapidly growing number of Christian missionaries in some of the countries they work in and where other religions dominate.

“We are very sorry to have caused any problems to the country over the kidnappings,” said family spokesman Cha.

Additional reporting by Lee Jin-joo