SEOUL — South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun pledged support for the U.S.-led war in Iraq during a televised speech Thursday, minutes after concluding a National Security Council meeting.

He said supporting the war and preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction will benefit his country’s interests.

Roh also promised to keep a close eye on the situation with North Korea. Some analysts predicted that, with the United States focused on Iraq, the North would use some sort of military provocation to test the waters. U.S. defense leaders have moved long-range bombers and an aircraft carrier into the region as a show of force to deter such steps.

Lt. Col. Lee Boong-woo, a Ministry of National Defense spokesman, denied news reports that the South Korean military raised its alert status from WATCHCON 3 to WATCHCON 2.

“The [Republic of Korea] Joint Chiefs of Staff and MND each created a Risk Management Team to monitor possible problems with this Iraq war,” Lee said.

Roh said South Korea also is sending noncombat troops, including military engineers and medics, to the Gulf region to support the war with Iraq. Lee said the exact number hasn’t been decided, but up to 600 troops will go if the National Assembly gives its approval.

Public reaction in South Korea was mixed.

The Pan-Korean Committee for Two Girls Killed by a U.S. Army Armored Vehicle planned a candlelight vigil Thursday night to protest the war.

“We shouldn’t let Iraqi children die under the name of war,” said Lee Myong-song, the group’s vice spokesman.

His group formed after two 13-year-old Korean girls, Shim Mi-sun and Shin Hyo-soon, were crushed to death by a U.S. armored vehicle driving off base during an exercise.

“The two Korean girls were also killed by the training they do to prepare for such a war,” Lee said. “We want to cry out to stop more meaningless death.”

But the National Convention for Free Unified Korea held a news conference Thursday and released a statement asking more South Koreans to support the Iraq war. The group argued that Roh should send combat troops instead of the engineers and medics.

“We think the U.S. attack on Iraq is justifiable,” said Kim Bum-soo, a member of the group. “The removal of Saddam Hussein is justice, and it’s good for Iraqi people to have democracy.”

He said his group believes the nation should show more support for the many American troops stationed in South Korea.

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