SEOUL — In an effort to directly engage younger South Koreans, the U.S. Embassy has launched an “online community” on one of South Korea’s most popular Web portals. The virtual discussion room, called Café USA, went online Monday on the Daum Internet portal and was linked from the Embassy’s Web site

The move is an effort to engage the Internet-savvy generation of Koreans widely viewed as the most suspicious of U.S. motives in the region. Students regularly are at the forefront of protests aimed at U.S. foreign policy or the U.S. military presence in South Korea.

The Daum portal draws tens of millions of South Korean users, who sign up for news or free e-mail accounts or use it for Web searches.

“As we live in a high-tech era, the embassy must find new ways to reach out to people. I look forward to reading the views of the Korean public by reading the posts on Café USA and sharing my thoughts on Korean-U.S. relations with the Korean people,” Christopher Hill, U.S. ambassador to South Korea, said in an embassy statement.

“I know it is important for us to listen to Korean viewpoints and I hope people will find Café USA a useful forum to express their views on Korean-American relations.”

According to the embassy, U.S. officials will try to respond to as many of the messages as possible and Hill will post a weekly message on the site. Other embassy officials are to reply to messages based on their areas of expertise.

By 5 p.m. Monday, about 500 users had signed up for the Café USA service and posted some 100 messages. Most simply offered congratulations and thanks for setting up a direct line to the embassy.

U.S. officials have gone to the Web before to reach South Koreans. Last year, U.S. Forces Korea developed a Korean-language version of its own Web page, posting news releases and hosting a discussion group.

USFK commander Gen. Leon LaPorte also took part in a live, online panel discussion with four young South Koreans in February. Korean Internet officials estimated almost 1 million “Netizens” in one of the world’s most-wired countries watched at least part of the discussion, which featured LaPorte, three students and a South Korean businessman.

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