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BUNDANG, South Korea (Reuters) – Sleeping feels like a sin for an exhausted Ryu Haeng-sik who looks after his two young daughters in suburban Seoul, waiting for word on his wife held by Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.
With news that a second kidnap victim has been killed, the strain is clear on Ryu and other relatives of the 23 South Koreans — 18 of them women — who were taken hostage south of Kabul nearly two weeks ago.
“It feels like my heart is being scorched. It’s unbelievable how sinful I feel for just eating and sleeping,” Ryu said in an interview with Reuters.
“I feel like I’m in hell. I just wish it would all end,” he said at the church which sent the group to Afghanistan.
Analysts said there is little Seoul can do to respond to the kidnappers who are demanding the Afghan government release Taliban prisoners in exchange for the hostages.
It has sent a special envoy to Kabul to try to help. But there are increasing calls in South Korea for the United States to intervene and help bail out an ally.
The kidnappers have already killed two male hostages and threatened on Tuesday to kill more of the remaining 21 if their demands are not met.
Ryu said his wife, Kim Ryun-young, loved to teach children which was why she joined 22 other volunteers from Saemmul Church, based in a suburb south of Seoul, on the trip to Afghanistan.
Red-eyed family members have been gathering for the past 12 days since the kidnapping, watching TV news programs in windowless rooms at their church.
Two of Seo Jeung-bae’s children — a daughter who is a nurse and a son who is a barber — are among the hostages.
“They did not go to Afghan to fight,” Seo said. “So please, don’t let there be anymore sacrifices.
“I can’t save them. I wish I could just die.”
Tables have been set up for reporters at the five-storey church in a room where colorful pictures drawn by the children of parishioners hang on the walls.
The church sits in a commuter district of Seoul where steeples, some adorned with red neon crosses, interrupt a skyline of narrow apartment buildings standing like rows of dominoes.
PRESSURE ON WASHINGTON
Je Mi-sook said her brother, held in Afghanistan, donated as much of his time and money as possible to charity.
“It’s heartbreaking to see the Taliban making these demands and putting lives at risk — when we are all the same human beings,” she said.
South Korea, which sends the second largest number of Christian missionaries abroad after the United States, has tried to block evangelical church groups from going to Afghanistan because of fear for their safety.
The relatives and the presidential Blue House know that South Korea has little to bargain with and both called for help and flexibility from the international community.
“The United States’ influence on the Afghanistan government is extremely important. It can play a necessary role in exchanging the Korean hostages for Taliban prisoners,” said Kim Won-wung, a senior lawmaker with the pro-government Uri Party.
Choi Jin-tae, head of the Korea Research Institute on Terrorism said there is the possibility of an anti-U.S. backlash in South Korea if things get even worse for the hostages and the South Korean public feels Washington did not do enough.
Anxious husband Ryu says he will wait in the church with other relatives praying for a peaceful outcome.
“We are their family, so we can’t stop hoping.”
(With additional reporting by Jessica Kim and Song Miri)
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28