South Koreans mourn workers killed in Iraq
December 3, 2003
SEOUL — South Korea’s government vowed Monday the killing of two South Korean contractors in Iraq will not affect plans to send thousands of troops to the region — but public opinion in Seoul appears much more divided on the matter.
“People just say that we can’t help it, but I don’t understand why,” said Kwon Hye-jin, a 19-year-old student waiting for a friend on a street bench. “I hope we don’t send any troops there, if we can choose not to. I’m afraid we will get some bad international image by sending combatant troops there, and I don’t want us to be manipulated by the United States.”
But others, like 35-year-old office worker Kang Tae-wook, said the killings should not deter South Korea from adding troops to the 700 medical and engineering personnel already in the country.
“We should send [them] anyway,” he said firmly.
Backing off from an already-announced decision to send the additional troops would be irresponsible, Kang said.
“Based on humanitarian reason, we should go help the Iraqi people. It would have been better had it not happened, but it happened,” he said of the killings.
After the shootings in Tikrit were reported early Monday, Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Soo-hyuk, at a news conference, declined to connect the incident and the troop dispatch, saying, “That matter needs more time. … I can’t say anything yet. The safety of Korean people there is more important for now.”
Lee confirmed the shooting happened on a highway near Tikrit on Sunday but said he couldn’t discuss details because South Korea’s Iraqi Embassy personnel were not yet able to access the scene.
“We will see if it was accidental or a deliberate attack targeting South Koreans after our embassy team gets there,” Lee said.
Kim Man-soo, 46, and Kwak Kyong-hae, 61, reportedly were killed, and Lee Sang-won, 42, and Lim Dae-shik, 32, were injured. They were working on a power transmission tower in Tikrit, said Lee Song-chul of Ohmoo Electric Co., and reportedly were traveling to Tikrit from Baghdad, where they stayed.
Ohmoo Electric Co. is a subcontractor for a U.S. firm, Washington Group; 68 people were sent to Iraq from South Korea, Lee said.
Lee said the company still awaited word from its remaining employees.
But Lee said he has no doubts the company will keep working until it completes its mission there.
South Korea’s Defense Ministry and the presidential Blue House spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the shooting would affect plans to send troops to Iraq. But Ra Jong-yil, the president’s national security adviser, said Monday, “It’s not desirable to link this issue with the additional troop dispatch plan.”
Professor Kim Soo-nam, of the National Defense University, urged that the shooting not be linked to sending troops. But the two likely will be mixed, he indicated — especially after two separate South Korean investigation teams returned from Iraq in recent weeks saying the security situation should not preclude sending additional troops.
“Sending troops to Iraq was decided in consideration of South Korea’s national interests,” Kim said, “and it shouldn’t be swayed due to one or two peoples’ sacrifices.”
“When we think of sending troops there, we should get ready and be prepared for some amount of unexpected forthcoming sacrifice. If we have to change our policy because of some relatively minor reason, that policy might have been mistakenly set up from the first place.”