Sat, Mar 20, 2004 - Page 7 News List

South Korea cancels last dispatch of troops to Iraq


South Korea said yesterday it had cancelled the dispatch of thousands of troops to Kirkuk in northern Iraq because Washington planned to launch combat missions there.

Yonhap news agency, citing South Korean defense ministry sources, said that Washington had asked South Korean troops to take part in the missions.

South Korea's government agreed last month to dispatch more than 3,000 troops to Iraq for relief efforts in a non-combat sector under their own command.

"South Korea said this proposal runs against the principles of the troop dispatch approved by the South Korean parliament," the defense ministry said in a statement announcing the cancellation of the troop dispatch.

The principles, it said, "stipulate that South Korean troops will maintain their own independent command and control system in a defined area which they control for the purpose of carrying out peace and reconstruction efforts."

"The US side raised the inevitability of offensive operations to maintain order in the Kirkuk area and proposed that a certain number of US troops continue to be stationed in that area."

South Korea is now looking for a more secure location for its troops. A decision can be expected in "a couple of weeks," Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said.

"The United States and South Korea have agreed that it is inevitable to change the location for South Korean troops as the security situation in Kirkuk has become worse," the defense ministry said.

The dispatch of South Korean troops, the third-largest contingent in the war-torn state after the US and Britain, scheduled to begin next month, is likely to be delayed.

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