Friday, 28 August 2009


SEOUL — South Korea is considering restricting the operations of its Christian missionaries in the Middle East after dozens were expelled for their activities, officials said Thursday.
Missionaries could run the risk of terror attacks and ordinary Korean tourists or businessmen might also be targeted, they said.
"Dozens of our citizens were expelled from Iran, Jordan, Yemen and other Islamic countries in the Middle East last month," a foreign ministry official told AFP, asking not to be identified.
He gave no exact figure. Chosun Ilbo newspaper, quoting a government source, said more than 80 were expelled in the past two months.
"The government is considering taking various and prudent steps for the safety of citizens overseas," the ministry official said without elaborating.
The Korea Herald, without giving a source, said Jordan had recently warned Seoul of possible terror attacks against South Korean missionaries.
In 2007 Afghanistan's Taliban kidnapped 23 South Korean Christian aid workers, two of whom were later killed. The remainder were set free after an undisclosed deal between the Seoul government and their captors.
In March four South Korean visitors to Yemen were killed in a suicide bombing at a historic tourist site. A statement purportedly from Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility.
In June a female volunteer was murdered after being kidnapped in Yemen.
It was unclear if the Yemen victims had links to missionary groups.
South Korea was also targeted after sending non-combat troops to Iraq.
In 2004 a militant group believed linked to Al-Qaeda beheaded a South Korean hostage after unsuccessfully demanding the Seoul government pull out troops.
Under South Korean law the government can restrict citizens' overseas travel if they are subject to a criminal investigation or it is feared they could damage national interests or public safety.
It can refuse to issue or renew passports for up to three years for those who have tarnished the nation's reputation abroad.
Christian and civic groups have maintained that any restrictions would violate constitutional rights to free travel and religious freedom.
South Korea has some 13.7 million Christians (8.6 million Protestants and 5.1 million Catholics) and about 10 million Buddhists, according to the National Statistical Office.
Some Protestant groups are noted for aggressive proselytising.