Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Kidnapping of Kim Sun Il; Korean public opinion

The deadline given to the South Korean government by the captors of Korean translator Kim Sun Il has already passed. He is apparently being held by the same group that murdered Nick Berg last month. There is an AlJazeera aticle here and an BBC article here.

According to this article, 'Public Turns Against Deployment after Kidnapping' on the Chosunilbo, South Korean public opinion is moving further against the deployment of Korean troops in Iraq.
Negative public sentiment about the additional dispatch to Iraq is on the rise with the kidnapping of Kim Sun-il by an armed group in Iraq. The portal site Naver.com conducted an emergency Internet vote on the additional dispatch of Korean troops to Iraq. 63.2 percent of the total 1,612 respondents answered that they oppose it while 33.2 percent supported the dispatch.

This compares with a survey carried out last October which found that:
48.6 percent supported the dispatch while 47.4 percent opposed it, with those [in support] slightly in the lead.

At that time, no Korean troops had been sent to Iraq or - publicly at least, promised. The promise came later, with Donald Rumsfeld's visit to East Asia last November.
Now there are somewhere between six and seven hundred Korean troops in the south of Iraq at Nasiriya and last Friday the Korean government reaffirmed its committment to send another 3000 troops, who will be deployed in northern Iraq, in predominantly Kurdish areas.

There has been considerable protest in Korea against the sending of troops to Iraq, including, recently, demos and vigils on Saturday reported in the LA Times
As the 24-hour countdown to the deadline began, hundreds held a candlelight vigil in Kim's hometown of Pusan to pray for his release. In Seoul, a similar vigil turned more political as antiwar activists said they hoped the incident would turn a largely apathetic nation against the Iraq dispatch.

"This makes the war in Iraq reality for many people," said Noh Ju Yeon, a 23-year-old student who was one of about 1,000 people marching in Seoul.

This same report also has another opinion poll:
Polls show South Koreans deeply divided about the troop dispatch, with even those in favor grudgingly describing it as a regrettable burden necessitated by the United States' historical role protecting the country against communist North Korea. A recent poll by the daily newspaper Hankook Ilbo showed 57% opposed to the dispatch, as opposed to 40% in favor.

... and comments, accurately:
South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun, who was a vocal opponent of the Iraq war before taking office last year, said today that his country will go ahead with plans to dispatch 3,000 troops to Iraq in August.

Heavy pressure has been put on the centrist government of South Korea to send troops to Iraq and keep them there. For the moment, at least, the countervailing pressure of public opinion has not been strong enough to force a withdrawal. In fact the South Korean general public are rather well-informed about the motives of the US, and of those who are in favour of the deployment of troops to Iraq, many must be reckoning that this is the price that has to be paid to keep the US administration from aggression towards North Korea, as the LA Times article hints by talking about a 'regrettable burden'.

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