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Korean-Americans Rally for Release of Hostages


Several dozen Korean-Americans rallied Monday outside United Nations headquarters to demand the release of 21 Korean hostages held by the Taleban in Afghanistan. Victoria Cavaliere reports from VOA's New York bureau the protesters say there has not been an adequate international effort to secure the hostages release.

Taleban militants kidnapped 23 South Korean church volunteers on July 19. Since then, the Taleban has executed two of the hostages and has repeatedly threatened to kill the remaining 21 unless the Afghan government releases jailed members of the terror group.

Korean community groups from New York City organized Monday's rally to urge the "immediate and unconditional release" of the Korean hostages. Peter Jeon, of the Korean-American Organization of Flushing, says a stronger diplomatic push is needed.

"What's really happening in Afghanistan is an outrage and an international crime," said Jeon. "At this point the U.S. and U.N. have not done anything at this point. More action must be taken by the U.S. and the U.N to have these hostages released from the Taleban."

Afghan President Hamid Karzai discussed the hostage situation with President Bush during a meeting at Camp David, Maryland Monday. Both leaders said they oppose any prisoner swap with the Taleban because it will only embolden the group and encourage more hostage-taking.

The Taleban issued a statement saying the fate of the Korean prisoners is in the hands of Mr. Bush and Mr. Karzai.

Ellen Young, a New York State legislator, told the rally that the situation is especially frustrating because the hostages are civilian aid workers.

"The harming of innocent lives can never be justified and the people imprisoned need to know that the whole world is praying for their safety," said Yong.

South Korea has appealed to U.S. and Afghan officials to negotiate the hostages' release. Seoul has also proposed meeting face-to-face with the Taleban, but there has been no agreement on where such a meeting would take place. South Korean diplomats have also met with pro-Taleban Pakistani leaders to try to enlist their help.

In recent months, Afghanistan has seen a resurgence of violence linked to the Taleban, which had been toppled by U.S. forces in late 2001.

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