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(LEAD) Korean construction firm attacked in Afghanistan: officials

All Headlines 23:45 November 11, 2009

(ATTN: UPDATES with company executive's remarks in paras 9-10; CHANGES lead, 2nd para)

SEOUL, Nov. 11 (Yonhap) -- A South Korean construction firm involved in the reconstruction of Afghanistan recently sustained three rounds of armed attacks from unidentified insurgents in the war-torn country, officials at Seoul's foreign ministry said Wednesday.

Construction equipment and vehicles of the Korean contractor, identified only by its initial S, were damaged in the attacks, but no casualties were reported, said the officials.

The first attack occurred Oct. 8, when a group of six armed gunmen assaulted the Korean firm's road construction site in Faryab Province in northern Afghanistan, according to the officials.

In the attack, the gunmen threatened the Korean firm's Afghan workers and burned excavators and other heavy equipment before fleeing, they said.

Five days later, another group of 10 armed gunmen raided the same Korean company's road construction site in the neighboring Balkh Province, setting documents and two Jeeps on fire and shooting at vans, the officials said.

On Nov. 5, a number of armed gunmen attacked the Korean firm's construction materials warehouse in Balkh, but retreated after exchanging gunfire with Afghan police troops for about 10 minutes, they added.

At present, the construction company has 80 South Korean workers stationed in Afghanistan and is engaged in six road construction projects.

"All three attacks on the Korean firm's facilities were carried out during the nighttime. No South Korean nationals were hurt in the attacks," said a ministry official.

An executive at the construction firm's headquarters in Seoul said the recent armed attacks may have originated from conflict among subcontractors, ruling out the possibility of the Taliban forces being involved.

"Not a single South Korean worker was hurt or killed in the attack. They may have been caused by a simple conflict between local subcontractors. We don't think the Taliban was behind the attacks," said the executive.

South Korea's government recently announced a decision to increase its reconstruction workers in Afghanistan to around 130 and dispatch about 300 security forces, aiming to operate an independent Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan as part of efforts to play a bigger role in the international community.

But the latest incident is expected to trigger controversy and concern about the safety of South Korean workers and troops in Afghanistan.


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