Worldwide Call to Prayer for Korean Hostages in Afghanistan

The killing of a second Korean Christian hostage in Afghanistan has led the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (PCK) to make an urgent call for prayer among the "entire ecumenical community around the world [...], that the killings of innocent people may stop and that these hostages may safely return to their families."

|PIC1|"We urge the global community to work for true peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan," wrote PCK general secretary Rev Yoon Kil Soo in a letter yesterday. "We sincerely request the governments of both Afghanistan and the US to lead the negotiations with the Taliban for the sake of the safe return of the hostages."

The announcement comes as Afghan authorities recovered on Tuesday the body of the second South Korean shot dead by Taliban kidnappers who threatened to kill more of the 21 hostages if Kabul does not free rebel prisoners by 0730 GMT on Wednesday.

The blood-stained body of the bespectacled man was left in a field of clover beside a road in Arzoo, a village some 10 km (6 miles) from the eastern city of Ghazni.

"If the Kabul administration and Korean government do not give a positive reply to our demand about the release of Taliban prisoners by tomorrow 1200 (local time), then we will start killing other hostages," Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yousuf told Reuters by telephone from an unknown location.

President Hamid Karzai's spokesman said bowing to Taliban demands would encourage more kidnapping.

"We shouldn't encourage kidnapping by actually accepting their demands ... In this situation we are doing what is the best for the interests of the hostages, and government," Humayun Hamidzada told reporters, without elaborating.

Karzai came under harsh criticism in March for releasing a group of Taliban prisoners in exchange for an Italian journalist.

"If we keep on responding positively to the demands of terrorists, we will face more problems," Hamidzada said.

Taliban spokesman Yousuf said Afghan negotiators had not contacted the Taliban since the second hostage was killed on Monday and said the insurgents suspected the Afghan Government and foreign troops were planning a rescue bid.

Rev Dr Samuel Kobia, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches responded to the PCK letter, saying: "The entire ecumenical community weeps at the senseless loss of life taking place in Afghanistan. We invite our member churches to pray with our brothers and sister in Korea for a peaceful end to this crisis and that the hostages will be freed."

Kobia also emphasised the need for a speedy and peaceful end to the violence in Afghanistan and for a peaceful resolution to the long standing conflict there.