S.Korea to send Iraq troops despite kidnapping
South Korea will go ahead with its plan to send 3,000 troops to Iraq despite a televised threat from Iraqi militants to behead a South Korean hostage, the foreign ministry said Monday.
The government would do its best to seek the release of 33-year-old businessman Kim Sun-il, who has been shown repeatedly on South Korean television pleading for his life, Vice Foreign Minister Choi Young-jin told reporters after a meeting of President Roh Moo-hyun's National Security Council.
The president of Kim's company had initially sought to negotiate with the kidnappers without telling the government, Choi said.
"There is no change in the government principle that the troop deployment is for the reconstruction of Iraq," Choi said. He chairs a special task force set up to handle the crisis.
Arabic television station Al Jazeera broadcast the videotape showing the masked militants standing behind Kim as they made their threat. South Korean television stations broadcast the film repeatedly.
South Korea's YTN television quoted Kim's family as saying he had called, sobbing, from Iraq. He is the seventh of eight children.
Yonhap news agency said Kim worked for a trading firm, Gana General Trading, and went to Iraq on June 15. The company had 12 employees in Iraq and has supplied military equipment to U.S. troops in Baghdad, the agency said.
South Koreans reacted with shock, particularly because of the footage of Kim imploring people to help to free him. But most said Seoul should not alter its decision to send troops.
"I felt terribly chilled this morning watching the Korean crying and yelling in front of the terrorists' camera. I am so sorry for his family. But feeling sorry and national security should be considered separately," said Sung Jeong-hun, a 29-year-old graduate school student in Seoul.
"If we accept the terrorists' demand this time, the terrorists will continue threatening the world with the horrible terrors," he said.
TOUGH BUT CRUCIAL
Ryu Hee-man, a 51-year-old businessman, said he had expected an incident of some kind so he was not greatly shocked. Others said they had been shocked and some said the government could be forced to reconsider its decision.
That seems unlikely, despite vocal protests against the plan, although the crisis could magnify public and parliamentary opposition.
Friday's announcement capped months of debate in South Korea on a pledge first made to President Bush by Roh in October last year and approved by parliament in February.
South Korea already has about 670 military engineers and medics in southern Iraq, and they will join the larger deployment in the North. About half the troops are combat-ready forces.
The ruling Uri Party decided last Thursday, after much debate, to back the government's plan to deploy the troops to Iraq but said it would reconsider its position at the end of the year.
South Korea's parliament approved the deployment plan in February but the government delayed the planned April departure because the original destination was deemed unsuitable.
Since the February vote, the Uri Party has won a majority in the 299-seat parliament in a general election and has members who vocally oppose the plan. Some may try to force a vote to overturn the deployment plan this week but are unlikely to succeed.
The resolution passed in February, by what was then an opposition-dominated parliament, was valid for one year and the government needs parliamentary approval to extend the deployment.
The conservative opposition supports the deployment.