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Seoul faces criticism over continued captivity of S. Korean sailors in Somalia

All Headlines 11:39 October 15, 2007

By Byun Duk-kun

SEOUL, Oct. 15 (Yonhap) -- The South Korean government on Monday was facing increased public criticism for allegedly applying double standards in dealing with two cases overseas involving the abduction of South Korean nationals.

Critics claim that unlike the efforts to secure the release of South Koreans kidnapped in Afghanistan in July, allegedly including a ransom, the government has not acted properly to free four South Korean citizens and some 20 nationals of other countries that were taken hostage in Somalia over 150 days ago.

The 24 sailors, including 10 Chinese, four Indonesians, three Indians and three Vietnamese, were seized off Somalia on May 15 while en route to Yemen on two Tanzania-registered fishing boats.

The abductors, Somali pirates, are said to have initially demanded US$700,000 in ransom, and later agreed to release all the hostages for some $1.1 million.

The owner of the South Korean ships says he is unable to pay more than $100,000 while the South Korean government refuses to render any help, citing a government principle of not negotiating with terrorist groups.

Over the past weekend, the Sunday Telegraph, affiliated with the British newspaper Daily Telegraph, reported Seoul paid $10 million in exchange for the 21 hostages in Afghanistan. Seoul has denied giving money to the Afghan insurgents.

A group of 23 aid workers from a South Korean church was taken hostage in July. Two were killed later that month, but the rest were released in August after a series of negotiations between South Korean officials and the Taliban.

The Taliban officials claimed the money from Seoul was used to stockpile enough weapons and ammunition for one year.

The Foreign Ministry has officially denied the report, saying it has applied the same principle of not negotiating with terrorist groups to every hostage situation and will continue to do so.

"That claim sounds like hollow rhetoric especially when the head of (South Korea's) intelligence agency and its officials have been seen at the scene of the hostage crisis in Afghanistan," an official at the Foreign Ministry said, asking that he not be identified.

The families of the South Korean sailors held hostage in Somalia paid a visit to the Foreign Ministry late last month, but were "politely" turned away, ministry officials said.

The families, mostly from the southern port city of Busan, are expected to visit Seoul again later Monday to demand a meeting with Prime Minister Han Duck-soo.

bdk@yna.co.kr
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