South Korea to punish travel to Afghanistan

South Korea, agonising over 23 of its citizens threatened with death by the Taleban, on Monday announced new rules to punish unauthorised travel to Afghanistan with possible jail terms.

South Korea to punish travel to Afghanistan
South Korea, agonising over 23 of its citizens threatened with death by the Taleban, on Monday announced new rules to punish unauthorised travel to Afghanistan with possible jail terms.

In a response to the hostage crisis, the foreign ministry has banned its nationals from travelling to the war-torn country and urged South Koreans already there to get out.

Spokeswoman Han Hye-Jin told AFP that Afghanistan has been added to the list of banned countries under a law which takes effect on Tuesday.

South Koreans can be jailed for up to one year or fined up to three million won (3,200 dollars) if they visit banned countries without prior permission.

The ministry on Saturday decided to include Afghanistan in the list, which formerly included only Iraq and Somalia.

"We strongly recommend our nationals in Afghanistan, now designated as a travel-ban country, to withdraw from there," a ministry statement said.

Around 400 South Koreans — about 200 troops and some 200 civilians — are believed to be in Afghanistan, according to ministry estimates.

Taleban have threatened to kill the 23 kidnapped South Koreans unless Kabul frees 23 jailed insurgents. They have also demanded that Seoul withdraw its 200 troops serving under US-led command.

On Sunday a spokesman for the insurgents extended the deadline by 24 hours, until 1430 GMT Monday, as a South Korean team flew to Kabul. The Seoul government has reaffirmed its plan to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year.

The foreign ministry says Seoul is in contact with the kidnappers through "various direct and indirect channels."

The captives, abducted last Thursday while travelling by bus from Kandahar to Kabul, are mostly women in their 20s and 30s belonging to a Presbyterian church on the outskirts of Seoul.

Both the government and their families have stressed they were on an aid mission and not an evangelical one.

South Korea's largest Protestant group, the National Council of Churches, appealed Sunday to the Taleban to release the group, which it said was "just helping children and people suffering from disease in Afghanistan."

The group also urged local churches to refrain from evangelical activities in Afghanistan and other war-ravaged countries.

The families of the hostages refuted some public criticism that they embarked recklessly on a dangerous missionary trip.

"My son Gyeong-Seok is a hair designer who went to Afghanistan to volunteer to cut Afghan children's hair," Seo Jeong-Bae, 57, told the JoongAng Daily newspaper. His daughter is in the same group.

Families of the 23 who gathered at a church breathed a sigh of relief Sunday at the deadline extension.

"I can't endure this," said a tearful Lee Jeong-Hun, whose sister Jeong-Ran is among the hostages. "I will be nicer to her. Please just come home."

The Korea Times newspaper, quoting Protestant groups, said some 100 Korean Christians are staying in Afghanistan for long-term service work.

The JoongAng daily in an editorial called for Christian groups to reassess the situation, even though they might argue that their volunteer work should not be compromised.

"They should ask themselves if it is a virtue to drive their families and society into worry and confusion."

AFP

Güncelleme Tarihi: 23 Temmuz 2007, 10:23
YORUM EKLE