Thu, Oct 18, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Korean kids `liked' alleged pedophile

AP , GWANGJU, SOUTH KOREA

A suspected Canadian pedophile who has become the focus of a global manhunt taught at at least two international schools in Asia. He was well liked at one; tossed out by the other.

Nestled among small green hills, the Gwangju Foreign School occupies a two building campus, sharing a quiet neighborhood with a few furniture stores, apartment buildings, a gas station and a butcher shop.

The institution's obscure existence ended late last week, when staff members, parents and students learned that a new teacher who suddenly disappeared was being sought by police worldwide.

Christopher Paul Neil, the 32-year-old Canadian who Interpol alleges abused young boys in Cambodia and Vietnam, is believed to be on the run after leaving South Korea and arriving in Thailand last Thursday.

Police, acting on hundreds of tips from people who responded to an unprecedented appeal by Interpol for help in identifying Neil, are searching for him in Southeast Asia.

Former colleagues in South Korea said he arrived in August to teach at the Gwangju school, but failed to show up for work last Thursday. They described him as outgoing, good at his job and popular with students.

"My heart is still pounding," Moon Hyang-bun, who has two children at the school, said Wednesday about learning of the allegations.

"I didn't personally meet him but our kids liked him," Moon said before entering one of the school's red brick buildings. "He had a good reputation. He suddenly disappeared and our kids were perplexed and felt bad."

Moon said the school had promised to explain. But the school's principal was mum.

Joseph Lynn said by telephone that he was "not at liberty to comment." He declined to be interviewed in person.

The small facility, with a yellow school bus parked outside, is located in the city of Gwangju, 370km southwest of Seoul.

According to its Web site, the school was founded in 1999 and offers classes from preschool to 12th grade for students with international backgrounds. Having been born outside South Korea is listed as a requirement for admission.

Ray Fowler, a Canadian teacher at the school, said the suspicions about Neil, whom he identified as a social studies and English teacher for grades seven and eight, came as a shock. He said Neil's apartment was next to his and that Neil would join some of the other teachers at his place to drink beer and listen to music on Friday nights.

"We didn't know anything until the police showed up Friday evening," Fowler said on Tuesday. "He was a very good teacher. Well organized, well prepared. His kids really liked him."

It was a different story in Thailand. Officials at Ramkhamlaeng Advent International School -- a Christian school in the outskirts of Bangkok -- said Neil taught there from August 2003 to January 2004.

"He didn't pass the probation," said Poramit Srikureja, an assistant chairman of the school.

Poramit said the school gave Neil verbal and written warnings about his teaching performance, in particular sloppy lesson plans and instances where he left students unsupervised in the classroom.

Rajdeep Takeuchi, who was the principal of the school during Neil's tenure, said he was an ineffectual teacher, but never caused any problems at the school.

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