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S.Korea bars citizens from Iraq travel after kidnap
Updated: 2004-04-09 09:14

South Korea barred its civilians on Friday from visiting Iraq after seven South Korean missionaries were kidnapped and then released amid worsening violence a year after the fall of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

The spokesman for the presidential Blue House said the government was also evacuating non-essential staff from its Baghdad embassy. Separately, Acting President Goh Kun ordered boosted security at diplomatic missions in the Gulf region.

"The government strongly recommends people refrain from traveling to Iraq because it sees the security unrest in the region continuing for a while," spokesman Yoon Tae-young told reporters.

"The strong recommendation means a virtual travel ban to the region. Other specifics will be prepared by the Foreign Ministry."

It was not immediately clear how South Korea would stop civilians traveling to Iraq beyond persuasion.

Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon was to brief reporters at 9 p.m. EDT. South Korean plans to send 3,000 troops to Iraq soon to help with reconstruction. They would join 600 military engineers and medics who have been in Iraq since last May.

South Korea holds a parliamentary election on April 15, and the troop deployment has become a key campaign topic in the past week. At least one opposition party is calling for the government to reverse its decision to send troops. So far the government has said the deployment will go ahead.

Goh, who is also prime minister, met overnight with his security advisers to discuss the latest kidnapping.

Masked gunmen seized seven South Korean Christian missionaries on Thursday but later released them. Several people from other countries, including Japan and Canada, have also been kidnapped in the past week.

"The government must take practical and systematic security steps including emergency evacuation plans and embassy security checks in the Arab region," Goh said in a statement.

"Specific action plans in conjunction with a change in situation should be delivered to citizens and government officials in Iraq, while the local embassy is checking how many Koreans are in the region," said Goh, who has been interim leader since parliament impeached President Roh Moo-hyun on March 12.

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