New appeal to free hostages

Times Staff Writer

Working together, Korean and Muslim American officials in Los Angeles are appealing to both Afghan and Taliban leaders to push for the release of the remaining 21 South Koreans being held hostage by Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.

In a letter hand-delivered by a representative of the Muslim Public Affairs Council on Monday to the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, community leaders urged forgiveness of the South Korean Christian aid workers for “holding the Bible on Afghan soil” and their return to their families.

Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council, said his organization was making arrangements to meet with an Embassy of Afghanistan official this week to discuss what could be done to free the hostages.

The four-page letter was written by the Los Angeles-based Concerned Citizens for Korean Hostages in Afghanistan. The group was recently established by Steven Kwon, a Korean American nutrition scientist who has worked in Afghanistan since 2003 to help malnourished women and children by helping farmers cultivate soy.


Kwon also sought the help of L.A.'s Muslim community.

Having worked in Afghanistan, Kwon said he wanted to help clear up a “misunderstanding” concerning the motives of the five men and 18 women who were abducted as they traveled by bus in Ghazni province July 19. Two male members of the team were slain by the Taliban.

“This group of South Koreans under your protection is comprised of medical doctors, students, nurses and their helpers who sought to provide medical treatment to patients in the impoverished villages of Kandahar,” stated the letter, which was endorsed by numerous Korean American organizations.

Kwon said South Koreans were motivated to do missionary projects because of the legacy of the Korean War and the suffering they endured in its aftermath.


Kwon noted that during the Korean War, Turkey was among the 16 countries that came to the aid of South Korea under the United Nations flag. Turkish soldiers brought the Koran with them to South Korea and bowed in worship toward Mecca five times a day, he said.

“It was a very new and strange scene for the Koreans to watch, but no Koreans criticized or opposed the Turkish soldiers’ actions of obeying Islamic tradition and exercising their Islamic faith on Korean soil,” the letter said.

Nur Amersi, executive director of the Afghanistan World Foundation’s Los Angeles office, which endorsed the letter, said that a permanent solution was needed to deal with relief workers operating in dangerous areas.

The advice of Muslim supporters was evident in the letter, which quoted the Koran.