Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Friday, April 09, 2004

S.Koreans detained by Iraq insurgents released

Seven South Korean missionaries detained by Iraqi insurgents in Iraq have been released, according to the South Korean TV station KBS.


Seven South Korean missionaries detained by Iraqi insurgents in Iraq have been released, according to the South Korean TV station KBS.

On late Thursday, the South Korean Foreign Ministry confirmed that eight South Koreas on Wednesday (Iraqi time) were seized by unidentified Iraqi insurgents, and one escaped later.

According to KBS, the seven South Koreans, all being pastors, were sent to Baghdad on Thursday by the insurgents after the latter confirmed they are South Koreans.

The seven people were given food and water during the detention,reported KBS, adding they are now in the Palestine Hotel.

The incident took place on an expressway leading from Jordan into Iraq, 250 kilometers west of Baghdad, at 10:30 p.m. (1930 GMT) on Wednesday.

The captured South Koreans are pastors from the Christian Council of South Korea.

They are Huh Min-young, Lim Young-seok, Hong Gwang-cheon, Cho Jeong-hyon, Lee Myung-sook, Kim Pil-ja and Byun Kyong-ja. The one who escaped is Kim Sang-mi from the Seomoon Church in the South Korean port city of Incheon.

Moreover, the South Korean Yonhap News Agency also quoted Kim Sang-mi as saying, "We were on the way from Amman, Jordan, to Baghdad, in two passenger cars. Around one and half hours before our arrival in Baghdad, and we were seized by strangers."

After arriving in Baghdad, Kim then reported the incident to the South Korean Embassy, said South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Shin Bong-kil.

Right after receiving the report, South Korean Ambassador to Iraq Im Hong-jae asked the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority to ascertain their whereabouts, identify the armed men's organization, take safety measures and make efforts to secure their release.

The South Korean missions in Jordan and Iraq had failed to dissuade the pastors from entering Iraq. The Seoul government has classified Iraq as a country to which travel is not advised.

The spokesman said the ministry immediately set up emergency teams in Seoul and Baghdad to deal with the incident and the National Security Counsel will convene a meeting on the issue on Friday.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry also recommended that South Korean civilians involved in non-essential business and civic group officials move to neighboring countries or return home untilthe situation is stabilized.

Apart from the eight people, there are 128 South Koreans in Iraq, including 14 government officials, 60 businessmen, 27 officials from nongovernmental organizations and nine journalists.

The incident came after two South Korean people were detained by Iraqi Shiite militia members on Monday. The two were released on Tuesday.

It was not known whether the incident of the capture of the eight South Koreans have connection with Seoul's troop dispatch plan to the Middle East country.

The South Korean government has decided to send some additional3,000 troops to Iraq. But a series of incidents involving South Koreans and the deteriorated security situation in Iraq have aroused serious concern locally.

There are concerns that South Korea may become a target of terrorists like Spain, where a series of train bombings killed nearly 200 people last month.

More and more local civic groups demanded the government halt the troop dispatch plan.

The Seoul government originally planned to send the additional large number of troops to Iraq around April. But it delayed the timing of dispatch until June for change of the deployment venue.

After the United States demanded "joint offensive operations" in Kirkuk, South Korea worried it will be more dangerous if its troops are deployed together with US troops, for Iraqi insurgents could not distinguish South Korean soldiers from US troops.

Last week, South Korea accepted US proposal to deploy its troops in the Kurdish Autonomous area.

South Korea's acting president, Prime Minister Goh Kun, and Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said that the Seoul government was committed to sending the troops to Iraq as scheduled despite the spread of fighting between Iraqi insurgents and the soldiers of the United States and its allies on Wednesday.  

Source: Xinhua

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