NATIONAL

Korea, Libya patching up diplomatic row

By
  • Published : Dec 30, 2010 - 19:04
  • Updated : Dec 30, 2010 - 19:04
Meeting the 30th anniversary of the establishment of their ties this month, South Korea and Libya appear to be putting behind their once frosty relations and quickly patching up a months-long diplomatic row.

In the most recent such case, Libya has told South Korea its leader has decided to pardon two South Koreans currently on trial for allegedly violating the country’s religious law, according to Seoul’s Foreign Ministry.

Muammar Gadhafi, the leader of the North African state, decided to pardon the Koreans as the two countries celebrate the 30th year of their diplomatic relations, the ministry here said.

South Korea and Libya forged diplomatic ties on Dec. 29, 1980.

“The (South Korean) government delivered its gratitude for the decision,” a senior ministry official said. “We are going to keep working on improving ties with Libya, possibly through a summit of the leaders of the two countries.”

The two males, identified only by their family names Gu and Jeon, will return home once their trial, scheduled for early next month, is officially canceled. The exact date has yet to be decided, according to the ministry official.

The two men, who had been in custody since Aug. 7 over suspected Christian missionary activities, were released in October but residing in the Muslim country until the trial.

South Korea has been striving to defuse misunderstandings with Libya over a Seoul intelligence official’s suspected espionage activities that led to the withdrawal of the staff from the country’s diplomatic mission in Seoul.

The row between the two countries was triggered earlier this year by a South Korean intelligence agent who allegedly worked on collecting information about Libya’s weapons systems and its leader.

Accusing the Seoul official of sharing the information with his American counterparts, Libya had him expelled and closed down its economic cooperation bureau, which serves as a de facto embassy, in Seoul.

Rep. Lee Sang-deuk’s trip to the North African state in September is said to have played an important role in ending the months-long diplomatic row. Meeting with the Libyan leader, Lee, who is also the elder brother of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, agreed to mend ties and increase economic exchanges. Libya is a major construction market for South Korea.

In a bid to renew bilateral relations, South Korea recalled its ambassador from the North African nation and is expected to send a new envoy early next year.

Libya has also reopened its mission recently and has indicated it will upgrade it to a full embassy soon, the Foreign Ministry here said.

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)