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(LEAD) Evacuation of S. Korean embassy staff in Afghanistan aided by friendly countries: official

Diplomacy 22:46 August 16, 2021

(ATTN: UPDATES last para)

SEOUL, Aug. 16 (Yonhap) -- Sunday's rushed evacuation of the South Korean Embassy staff in Afghanistan proceeded smoothly with the help of friendly countries, including the United States, a foreign ministry official said Monday.

South Korea has temporarily closed its embassy in the war-torn country and evacuated most of its diplomatic staff to a third country in the Middle East amid the Taliban militant group's faster-than-expected advances to retake full control of Afghanistan.

The evacuation decision came during Sunday's emergency virtual meeting where Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong, Ambassador to Afghanistan Choi Tae-ho and other officials discussed the security conditions in the war-torn country, the safety of diplomats and other issues.

This photo, taken on May 28, 2021, shows Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong speaking during a parliamentary session at the National Assembly in Seoul. (Yonhap)

During the meeting, Choi received a message from a friendly nation stressing the need to rush to an airport in the Afghan capital of Kabul for evacuation.

"The message was about the need for diplomatic staff to move to a Kabul airport and the need to leave the country," the official said on condition of anonymity.

"After the minister and the ambassador discussed the message, they decided to pull out all that can be withdrawn," he added.

The official did not disclose which country gave that message, but it could be the United States or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that have been leading security operations in the country.

Upon the evacuation decision, the Korean diplomatic staff scrapped classified documents and took other steps required to close the embassy, the official said. They then rushed to an airport, using a U.S. military helicopter.

In the evacuation process, South Korea was able to use the U.S. military asset under a memorandum of understanding that the two countries signed earlier this year in the event of a contingency.

Currently, three Korean embassy personnel, including Ambassador Choi, remain in Afghanistan in part to support the evacuation of a Korean national who has continued to stay in the country despite the government's call to depart.

On Monday, the Korean citizen reportedly boarded a plane bound for a third country. But the plane could not take off as of 9 p.m. as many Afghans flocked to the runway in an apparent exodus to safer places.

sshluck@yna.co.kr
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