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11 S. Korean businessmen return home from Mali amid coronavirus lockdown

All News 17:34 April 16, 2020

By Kim Seung-yeon

SEOUL, April 16 (Yonhap) -- Eleven South Korean businessmen, who had been stranded in Mali due to the coronavirus lockdown there, returned home Thursday after a long journey made possible by helping hands from many foreign countries, including Belgium, officials said.

The employees of Haejeon Industrial Co., a dam construction company in southwestern South Korea, were stuck in the West African nation for over a month as Mali declared a nationwide lockdown and closed its border in mid-March to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

It was not easy for the South Korean Embassy in Senegal -- the mission responsible due to the absence of a Korean diplomatic presence in Mali -- to find ways to help them return as flight operations in the region have been suspended.

The Korean embassy in Senegal had asked its foreign partners who run embassies there, such as the United States, Britain, France and Belgium, to contact them if they learn of any special flights planning to depart from Mali.

Good news came in late last week when the U.S. Embassy in Mali informed the Korean mission in Senegal that a Belgian military aircraft was preparing to fly out to help dozens of its own citizens and foreigners return home.

In the course of arranging the evacuation for the Koreans, Belgium's current ambassador to Mali, Adrien Theatre, played a key role in allowing the Koreans to board the military plane, according to foreign ministry officials in Seoul.

In an exception to Belgium's entry ban on foreigners currently in place, the 11 businessmen were also permitted to spend a night at a hotel near the airport in Belgium, before they traveled to Qatar to board a flight home, the officials said.

Theatre previously served as ambassador to South Korea from 2016-18.

Aboard the Belgian military plane, equipped to carry about 50 people, were its own nationals, American and European citizens and the 11 Koreans. The Haejeon employees arrived at Incheon International Airport on Thursday afternoon.

This photo, provided by the South Korean Embassy in Brussels on April 15, 2020, shows a Belgian military aircraft after it arrived from Mali, carrying its own citizens and foreigners, including 11 South Korean businesspeople who had been stranded in the West African nation due to the coronavirus lockdown there. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

elly@yna.co.kr
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