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Last Updated: Friday, 31 August 2007, 18:00 GMT 19:00 UK
Freed Korean hostages head home
A female South Korean hostage is supported by a Red Cross worker
South Korea denies paying a ransom to free the hostages
The 19 South Korean church workers freed from captivity in Afghanistan have begun their journey home.

The Christian group has flown to Dubai, UAE, and are due to arrive back in Seoul on Sunday.

Before they left Kabul, some of the freed hostages told a news conference they were sorry for what had happened.

Of the 23 Koreans snatched on 19 July by the Taleban, two were murdered and two were freed earlier. Seoul denies paying a ransom for their release.

One of the hostages, Suh Myung-hwa, was quoted as telling Korean TV before she left Afghanistan: "While kidnapped, all I could think about was staying alive."

19 July: 23 South Korean Christian volunteer aid workers seized on a bus between Kabul and Kandahar
26 July: One male hostage shot dead - identified as Bae Hyung-kyu, 42, a church pastor and leader of the group
31 July: Another male hostage, Shim Sung-min, a 29-year-old former IT worker, found dead
10 August: South Korean officials and Taleban start talks
14 August: Two female hostages handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross as a goodwill gesture - leaving 19
29 August: 12 more hostages released - leaving seven
30 August: All remaining hostages released

The Associated Press reported her as saying: "I didn't feel any pain under captivity, I guess because I was in a panic the whole time, but now that the tension is gone my body aches all over."

Another, Yu Kyeong-sik, said she was "very sorry" for what had happened, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.

"I've had sleepless nights, thinking of what we have caused to the country," she said.

Ms Yu described how her group had taken a bus from Kabul for Kandahar on 19 July, believing it would be safe to travel in the afternoon.

But their driver picked up two Afghans who subsequently used guns to kidnap them.

Their release was negotiated by South Korean officials, who had face-to-face meetings with the Taleban earlier this week.

Ransom allegations have been made by a number of Afghan officials in recent days.

Japan's Asahi Shimbun newspaper quoted one Afghan mediation source as saying the sum was $2m (1m).

The South Koreans deny the claims, saying they denounce "kidnapping and other terrorist acts".

Heightened fears

Seoul said it agreed to pull its troops out of Afghanistan as scheduled by the end of the year, and stop missionaries travelling to Afghanistan.

But correspondents say the actions of South Korean officials in negotiating directly with the Taleban have set a bad precedent.

The BBC's Alastair Leithead, in Kabul, says the Taleban appear to have succeeded in this case - getting away with a kidnap and having their demands met.

There are now heightened fears that more kidnappings will follow, our correspondent says.

The group can expect a mixed reaction when they arrive in Seoul.

South Koreans have welcomed their release, but many are uneasy about the deal done to free them, and some have questioned their reasons for being in Afghanistan in the first place.

Their church has insisted the 23 Christians were doing aid work and were not involved in missionary activities.

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