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Seoul To Send Troops To Iraq Despite Threats

Kim Sun-il (file photo) 21 June 2004 -- South Korea says it will go forward with its plans to send some 3,000 additional troops to Iraq, despite a threat from Iraqi militants to execute a South Korean hostage.

Speaking in the South Korean capital Seoul, Vice Foreign Minister Choi Young-jin told reporters the government would not give in to the ultimatum.

"I am telling you that there will be no change of our government's basic spirit and position -- our plan to send troops to Iraq is for the support and reconstruction of Iraq," Choi said.

Choi added that the government will do its best to seek the release of businessman Kim Sun-il, aged 33.

The South Korean news agency Yonhap reported that Seoul will dispatch a six-member delegation to Jordan this afternoon to help facilitate Kim's release.

The hostage takers had given a deadline, ending today, for South Korea to withdraw its 600 troops already in Iraq and reverse its decision to send more, in order to spare Kim's life.

Al-Jazeera television yesterday aired a videotape showing Kim and three armed, masked kidnappers who threaten to behead him unless Seoul withdraws its troops within 24 hours. "This is a message for the South Korean government and the Korean people. We ask you to withdraw your forces from our land and not to send any more troops, and if not, we'll send you this Korean's head and with it, the heads of the rest of the Korean troops. We give you 24 hours, starting from Sunday [20 June]," the hostage taker said.

The kidnappers identified themselves as belonging to an organization led by a militant with suspected links to Al-Qaeda, Abu Mu'sab al-Zarqawi.

Kim's kidnappers are reportedly holding a total of about 10 foreign hostages. The company president of Kim's employer today told Yonhap news agency that an Iraqi sent to Al-Fallujah to negotiate with the kidnappers had seen about 10 foreigners, including at least one European journalist.

Meanwhile, a U.S. military court in Baghdad today began pretrial hearings in the cases of three U.S. servicemen accused of abusing detainees at Iraq's Abu Ghurayb prison near Baghdad. They will face courts martial at a later date after the hearings, which are due to run for three days.

But Ali Jasem, a parent of a detainee at Abu Ghurayb prison, told Reuters that the trials should not be run by Americans. "This court is not right, because the soldiers are being tried by Americans. We want the court to be run by the United Nations, with the help of neutral countries," Jasem said.

Military judge Colonel James Pohl said defense lawyers for two of the soldiers -- Sergeant Javal Davis and Corporal Charles Graner -- will be allowed to question the head of U.S.-led forces in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, and from the top U.S. military commander in the Middle East, General John Abizaid.

Defense teams have argued their clients were instructed on a daily basis to "soften up" Iraqi prisoners in order to obtain intelligence, and that the abuse of detainees was sanctioned by officials far up the chain of command.

Paul Bergrin, who is defending Davis, today told journalists outside Abu Ghurayb that his client had not broken the law. "Everything that Javal Davis did in this particular case was legal, was standard operating procedure, and he was told to do that by military intelligence as well as by other intelligence agents," Bergrin said.

Graner's lawyer, Guy Womack, said he does not expect the trials to begin before October.

The only soldier brought so far to trial over the abuse was sentenced last month to a year in prison after pleading guilty for his role in the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghurayb.

(Compiled from wire reports)

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