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(LEAD) Seoul expresses regret over Russia's reaction to travel warning

All Headlines 22:23 March 12, 2010

(ATTN: CHANGES dateline; RECASTS headline, lead paras; UPDATES with reaction from S. Korea's foreign ministry, minor changes throughout)
By Byun Duk-kun

SEOUL, March 12 (Yonhap) -- South Korea on Friday expressed hope its relations with Russia would not be affected by its travel warning on Russia, only hours after Moscow called the warning "not justified."

Seoul's foreign ministry said the travel warning was inevitable because it has to protect its citizens.

"The temporary travel warning on Russia was a measure to ensure the safety of our citizens amid a series of violent crimes against our students there, and we hope the Russian side would understand this," a ministry official said, asking not to be identified.

The remarks came shortly after Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed regrets over the South Korean warning that advised all South Koreans staying or traveling in Moscow and all other parts of Russia to take safety precautions.

"The decision is not justified," the Russian ministry said in a statement.

Seoul issued the travel warning Thursday after a 29-year-old South Korean student in Moscow was left critically wounded earlier this week. He had been stabbed by a masked person, who immediately fled the crime scene without taking any money or other valuables. Another South Korean student in the Siberian city of Barnaul was beaten and stabbed to death last month.

Seoul had cited an expected rise of crimes against people of "non-Slavic" appearances in Russia around April 20, the birthday of the late German dictator Adolf Hitler, as a reason for its temporary travel warning that expires May 31.

"It was a measure to warn our citizens against a possible rise of crimes against foreigners in Russia," South Korea's foreign ministry earlier said.

It was the first time for Seoul to issue a travel warning on the capital of any permanent member nation of the U.N. Security Council, which includes the United States, Britain, China and France.

The Russian ambassador to Seoul, Konstantin Vnukov, had claimed the recent attacks against South Koreans did not appear to be racially motivated when he was summoned by South Korea's Vice Foreign Minister Shin Kak-soo to hear Seoul's official complaints Wednesday.

However, Russian police officials in Moscow have told South Korean diplomats here that they believe the latest attack in the Russian capital may have been a hate crime.

Vnukov's earlier claim that two suspects had been arrested and were in questioning over the Moscow incident also caused confusion, as the Moscow police later said no arrests were made.

The Russian foreign ministry on Friday said it hopes the police will soon find those responsible for the attack and bring them to justice.

bdk@yna.co.kr
(END)

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