Iraq--Korean Missionaries Detained, then Released

Iraq -- The seven missionaries were released after captors learned they were ministers.

The seven South Korean Christian missionaries, who were detained in Iraq by armed men on Wednesday, were later released without harm, on Thursday, April 08, 2004.

According to the South Korea’s SBS news network, the group of 8 evangelists from the Korean Council of Evangelical Churches was stopped by unidentified men who disguised themselves as civilians at a checkpoint on a road from Amman, Jordan, to Baghdad.

One of the missionaries, Kim Sang-Mee, escaped. The other ministers: Huh Young, Lee Myong-suk, Hong Gwang-cheon, Cho Jong-hun, Byeon Kyung-ja, Kim Pil-ja and Lim Young-sup, were detained for 9 hours before they were released.

Sang Mee Kim told Korean news media about the attacks: "Around one and half hours before our arrival in Baghdad, we were seized by strangers.?

Kim escaped when the vehicle she was in drove off before she could get out; the driver was Iraqi.

"We became subject to those people's inspection, and they detained our ministers," Kim, told the Korean media by phone. "I was last to get out. And as I was about to get out, the driver drove away and I managed to escape."

The missionaries were on their way to attend an opening ceremony for a missionary school near Mosul, SBS reported, before they were detained. They arrived in Iraq on April 5 with plans to return to Korea on April 14.

According to SBS, South Korea’s ambassador to Iraq, Im Hong-Jae, later met with the seven missionaries and said they were in good condition and that their captors had even given them food and drinks. Apparently, the missionaries were released after their captors learned that they were ministers. They were then treated well and driven to a location near a U.S. military base where they were let go.

"We confirm that all seven have been released unharmed," said ministry spokesman Shin Bong-Kil.

The director general of the Middle Eastern Affairs at the Foreign Ministry, Lee Kwang-Jae, said the captors?identities were still unclear.

On Friday, South Korea’s National Security Council called an impromptu meeting for Friday morning to review the situation in Iraq before it makes final preparations to deploy troops there.

Earlier this week, two South Korean aid workers were briefly detained by Shiite Muslim forces during a gunbattle with Italian peacekeepers. They were also released unharmed.

Currently, the U.S.-ally South Korea has 600 military engineers and medics in Iraq and plans to send 3,000 more for reconstruction.


Unidentified South Korean aid workers relax in a Baghdad hotel room after being freed unharmed April 8, 2004. South Korea's Foreign Ministry said seven South Korean members of a church group had been taken hostage by armed men in Iraq, but later released.

Pauline J. Chang