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Fears grow over safety of Koreans in conflict zones

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Published : 2014-01-20 19:48
Updated : 2014-01-20 19:48

Concerns are growing over the safety of South Korean diplomats and workers in conflict-laden countries after a trade agency employee was abducted in Libya on Sunday.

The kidnapping of Han Seok-woo, the head of the Libyan branch of the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency, has prompted calls for Seoul to improve protection of its citizens working in volatile regions such as Africa and the Middle East.

Han’s case is the latest in a series of kidnappings of South Koreans that have taken place over the last decade.

In December 2012, three employees of Hyundai Heavy Industries were abducted in Nigeria while working at a construction site on an island in the African state. They were released after four days of captivity.

There have been six abduction cases in Nigeria involving South Koreans since 2006.

In October 2011, three South Korean mine workers were kidnapped on Mindanao Island in the southern part of the Philippines where Islam militants were notorious for abducting foreign nationals. The three were set free about a month after being kidnapped.

A South Korean businessman was also held captive in the Philippines in March 2008 and set free two months later.

In July 2007, 23 South Korean Christian missionaries were kidnapped by Taliban militants in Afghanistan, which sent shockwaves across the entire country.

The incident ended in the murder of two of the missionaries. The rest of the hostages were freed at last, but many suspect that a huge payoff was involved, making overseas Koreans vulnerable to more kidnappings.

The most shocking case was of Kim Seon-il, an employee of a South Korean trade company, who was kidnapped in Iraq in June 2004 and later beheaded amid heated negotiations with local militants.

The militant group released a video clip in which Kim, on both knees and with a scarf covering his eyes, cried out for help. His body was later found on the outskirts of Baghdad.

The case promoted strong protests in Korea against Seoul’s dispatch of additional troops to the war-ravaged country.

Whenever such kidnappings take place, Seoul issued travel advisories or bans for the dangerous regions. But observers said the government should do more to prepare against future incidents.

They pointed out that Seoul lacked experts on the Middle East and other conflict zones who could assist in communication with kidnappers. They argue that Seoul needs to raise more individuals with a good grasp of cultures and languages of the crisis-prone areas.

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)

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