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S. Korea obliged to play a bigger role in Afghanistan: minister

All Headlines 16:00 November 06, 2009

By Tony Chang

SEOUL, Nov. 6 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's recent decision to send military troops to Afghanistan was made as part of the country's obligations as a responsible member of the international community, Seoul's foreign minister said Friday.

Seoul announced its decision last week to send an independent "Provincial Reconstruction Team" (PRT) to the war-torn Central Asian country, with officials forecasting the team will be composed of about 50 civilian reconstruction workers and 300 security forces.

The South Korean government separately plans to increase the number of aid workers belonging to a U.S. PRT located at an Air Force Base in Bagram, north of Kabul, from 24 to 85 early next year, the officials said.

"The decision to expand aid for Afghanistan is in line with our country's diplomatic policy. We're now required to play an important role in international society, particularly in consideration of our status as one of the world's 10 largest economies and a key member of the Group of 20 Summit," Yu said during an interpellation at the National Assembly.

South Korea withdrew 200 troops from Afghanistan in 2007 but has been under pressure to make more contributions there. Around 67,000 U.S. soldiers and about 40,000 troops from 40 other countries are stationed there, either supporting reconstruction efforts or fighting against the Taliban.

Yu also said that South Korea "should prepare for sacrifices" when asked by a lawmaker about the potential threats South Korean troops may face.

In 2007, Taliban insurgents kidnapped 23 South Korean church workers, mostly in their 20s, in Afghanistan. Two were killed, while the others were released after lengthy negotiations between the South Korean government and the captors.

The PRT will be run separately from the U.S. PRT in Bagram, Seoul officials said, adding South Korea is working to build a large hospital and job-training center inside the base.

The South Korean government is expected to send a fact-finding team sometime after November to decide how many soldiers will be sent and where they will be based.


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