S. Korea seeks Saudi help in Afghan hostage crisis




The crisis is now in its 18th day and diplomatic efforts have produced very little; thus, the Korean ambassador to the Kingdom, Jaegil Lee, has said that his country is seeking “help and assistance” from Islamic leaders in Saudi Arabia since the Kingdom is the birthplace of Islam and also the site of Islam’s two holiest mosques.


“We want the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, especially its religious leaders, to deliver some sort of statement that it is contrary to Islam to kidnap or kill people,” Ambassador Lee said.


Speaking to journalists, the ambassador noted that a statement had already been issued by the Jeddah-based secretariat of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), denouncing the kidnapping. He also said that officials from the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) had denounced the hostage-taking.


He said that the 23 Koreans had gone voluntarily to Afghanistan for humanitarian reasons. “They were not sent there by the government. They were volunteers who went there for medical and humanitarian assistance,” he said.


The Korean diplomat said he believed an official message from the government of Saudi Arabia, particularly from official religious bodies, could have an impact and help the situation.


He noted that the global media, especially in the West, portrays Islam as both radical and violent which the current situation has done nothing to dispel. “Hence, it is necessary for the Islamic world to criticize Taleban’s actions in the form of fatwas,” Ambassador Lee continued.


Asked whether the embassy had approached Saudi officials about the hostage situation on an official level, he said he realized that the Saudi government did not recognize the Taleban. “It is not a government to government issue. The Saudi government has no direct links to the Taleban,” he said, adding that he was hopeful the Kingdom would assist the Korean government through the mediation of religious scholars. “We have contacted several Saudi officials who expressed their sympathy.”


The ambassador went on to say that the crisis would not influence future humanitarian missions to Iraq, Afghanistan, or Lebanon. “We will continue our humanitarian assistance. But we have to be very careful about the safety of our people,” he said. He pointed out that in 2005, Korean humanitarian assistance to Middle Eastern countries amounted to $ 90 million, with 40 percent of it went to Iraq as medical assistance. He also mentioned that Korea was home to 140,000 Muslims.


Commenting on the presence of Korean troops in Afghanistan, the ambassador said their presence was “to assist reconstruction in the country. They are military people but they are not fighters,” he said, emphasizing that they do not take part in attack operations. As for Korean nationals traveling to Afghanistan, the ambassador said that Seoul had decided to ban its nationals from traveling there in the wake of the hostage crisis.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *