The final three South Korean hostages have been released, bringing the total to seven the number of those freed on Thursday and what looks to be an end to the six-week hostage drama that made headlines around the world.
Two women and one man were handed over to Reto Stocker, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan, hours after a handover of four hostages earlier in the day, according to The Associated Press.
Although a South Korea presidential spokesman said Tuesday that it may take some time before the actual releases take place after the Taliban and South Korea struck a deal on Tuesday for the lives of the remaining hostages, all 19 were released over the course of five handovers.
South Korean presidential spokesman Cheon Ho-sun said Thursday that once the remaining hostages were freed, the group will be heading to Kabul before returning home via Dubai.
"We are more than thrilled to learn that they are free, but I must tell you that we can't wait until all of them return safely," said Cha Sung-min, a spokesman for the hostages' family members after receiving news Tuesday that all 19 hostages would soon be freed, according to Korea Times.
Since the July 19 abduction – the largest abduction of foreigners in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001 – two male hostages have been killed. The leader of the group, Bae Hyung-kyu, was found dead on July 25, and the body of 29-year-old Shim Sung-min was found July 30. Also, prior to the latest releases, two females – 37-year-old Kim Kyung-ja and 32-year-old Kim Ji-na – were freed on Aug. 13.
The recent handovers took place after the Taliban and South Korea struck a deal in which Korea promised to withdraw its 200 troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year and to block South Korean Christian missionaries from working in the country.
Although there were earlier reports that suggested the involvement of money in the negotiations, an Indonesian government official who took part in the negotiations Tuesday between three South Korean officials and two Taliban commanders where the deal was struck said money was not brought up.
Furthermore, the rebels had reportedly foregone their original demand for a prisoner exchange.
Protestant organizations in South Korea have said they will respect the new law banning missionary activities in Afghanistan after voicing appreciation for the government's effort in freeing the Christian volunteers.
However, the head of the Institute of Asian Culture and Development, Choi Han-woo, noted that the Taliban apparently wanted to define missionary work to include Korean volunteer activities as well and "to justify their abduction," according to Chosun Ilbo.
Still, Choi said his organization will pull out its workers from Afghanistan in compliance with the agreement.