While they are being called "aid workers," the primary mission of the South Koreans held hostage in Afghanistan appears to have been the conversion of Muslims to Christianity. Although their mission was illegal under Afghan law, the Koreans decided that going to a very dangerous place to illegally gain converts superseded any concern about the personal dangers, the dangers to others and the political ramifications of their actions:
The hostages, members of Saemmul Church from Bundang, near Seoul, appear to have been somewhat naive. They were traveling from Kabul to Kandahar on one of the most dangerous routes in Afghanistan. They rode a charter bus often used by foreigners, immediately attracting attention, and they did not alert local police to their presence for fear of being questioned about their identity papers, the bus driver has said. Photos of some of the missionaries, mostly women in their 20s and 30s, have surfaced on the Internet; they are seen giddily posing in front of the government sign at Seoul's Incheon International Airport warning about the dangers of travel to Afghanistan...
...As Christianity has taken firmer hold in the past few decades, riding the boom that has turned South Korea into one of the world's leading economies, competition among churches has turned fierce. Deploying missionaries abroad has become one of the quickest ways for a church to broaden its reputation and attract members. The more volatile the area, the holier the mission.
In highly wired South Korea, the debate is heating up online. President Roh Moo Hyun, who is Catholic, issued a statement yesterday asking bloggers to stop lashing out at the missionaries for bringing the nation to a standstill. His government is being criticized for not adding Afghanistan to its list of no-travel zones earlier. Some devout Christians are calling the abductees martyrs, evoking the self-glorification of extreme Islamist jihadists. The head of Saemmul Church has been forced to apologize to the nation for sending ill-prepared congregants on such a mission.
The South Korean government has asked the Afghan and American governments for flexibility in dealing with the kidnappers' demand for the release of Taliban prisoners. Both governments have refused to negotiate with the hostage takers.
I can't find fault with the position of the U.S. and the Afghan governments on this one. Afghanistan is a war zone and the Koreans were there voluntarily on a mission to exploit the instability in Afghanistan for their own purposes. Freeing Taliban prisoners that the US government has deemed dangerous would send the wrong message. It would encourage future kidnappers and future Korean missionaries.