08/29/2007, 00.00
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Terms of South Korean hostages’ release set a “dangerous” precedent

From Kabul the clergyman responsible for the international Catholic community in Afghanistan warns that the Talibans’ success in getting South Korean missionaries to end all their activities in the country might have repercussions on other Christian communities. For local experts the missionaries’ abduction was “confessional” in nature, not political.

Kabul (AsiaNews) – The agreement reached by the delegates of the South Korean government and the Talibans for the release of 19 Evangelical Christian hostages sets a dangerous precedent that might jeopardise other Christians. As happy as he is for the eight women released this morning, Fr Giuseppe Moretti, who is responsible for the international Catholic community in Afghanistan, calls for caution.

In order to agree to end the hostage-taking incident that began on July 19 in Ghazni province, the Talibans successfully forced South Korea to pull its military contingent from the country and wrap up all activities by South Korean missionary groups by the end of the year. As a result of the abduction, Seoul has banned its citizens from traveling to Afghanistan.

As he told AsiaNews, “getting controversial South Korean missionary groups banned from the country could lead to unexpected and dangerous reactions involving us Catholics,” said Father Moretti. “Extremist Muslim groups that are still very strong here might see the abduction of foreigners as a way to rid the country of non-Muslims. Now they might point the finger at any activity by non-Muslims as a pretext to accuse us of proselytising and throw us out, or even worse, kill us.”

Many local experts who chose anonymity agree. Unlike the politically-motivated abduction of Italian journalist Mastrogiacomo back in March, the capture of South Korean missionaries was “confessional” in nature, they told AsiaNews.

In their view “Italy, because of its strong presence in Afghanistan and its role in international alliances (NATO), cannot be compared to South Korea, which in any event had already decided to pull its (200-strong) contingent out of the country.”

For the Barnabite priest, who has been in Afghanistan for years, some Protestant groups have acted “irresponsibly.” In his view, they failed to “take into account the country’s legal, social and political context. They came here and, in addition to helping people providing hospital care and education, engaged in aggressive evangelisation, which is banned by the government.”

“Why run any risk at a time when Afghanistan is not yet ready at a human level to open itself up to religious experiences that are different from those of Islam?” he asked himself.

Father Moretti, who is parish priest of the country’s only church, believes that “prudence is de rigueur.”  Everyone involved ought to “do only what is right without attaching any labels. Let us show consistent in our daily lives and let our silence speak volumes.”

At the end of the day he knows that the “Afghans appreciate him, that they hold in high esteem the Sisters of Mother Teresa for their work with children as well as the Little Sisters of Jesus” for what they do.

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