- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2006

From combined dispatches

KABUL — Afghanistan plans to deport hundreds of visiting South Korean Christians over security fears after Islamic clerics demanded their expulsion, accusing them of trying to spread Christianity.

There was no official comment from the Afghan government, but a member of the visiting Korean team in Kabul confirmed the deportation order.

“Yes, yes, we have been told to leave Afghanistan because of security concerns,” Kang Sung-han told Reuters news agency.

He said the Koreans in the capital have been confined to their guest houses while those outside Kabul have begun returning to prepare to leave the country.

A Foreign Ministry official in Seoul said the Afghan government had deported 35 of the evangelical Christians in the past few days and soon would send home 900 more.

“The government has started the process of deporting the South Koreans, but securing available planes to take them back to South Korea would not be an easy job,” the official said.

About 2,000 Koreans say they came to Afghanistan for a “peace festival and educational and entertainment programs.”

The festival, set for this weekend, has been canceled at the request of the Afghan government, Agence France-Presse reported, citing a member of the Korean group.

The South Korean-based Institute of Asian Culture and Development, which organized the festival, said some of the visiting Koreans have U.S. or Canadian citizenships, and there were 600 children among the visitors.

The South Koreans say they are in Afghanistan only to help the war-ravaged country through medical, education and cultural programs. They are in Kabul and four other cities and towns.

“We are not against the policies of Afghanistan. We respect and we love Afghanistan,” Mr. Kang, the institute’s Central Asia director, told Agence France-Presse Wednesday.

Although officials were trying to get the group out, other Koreans still trying to arrive were being turned away at the borders, a Korean government official said.

The Koreans’ visit comes despite warnings by Seoul that they could be targets of attacks in the deeply conservative Muslim country.

Hundreds of Muslim clerics rallied in an ancient mosque in a northern city on Wednesday to demand the Koreans’ expulsion after accusing them of trying to spread Christianity.

A Foreign Ministry official in Seoul told Agence France-Presse yesterday that a South Korean Red Cross vest rigged with explosives was found July 24 in a village near Kabul, heightening fears of an attack.

Dozens of Afghan Muslims have converted to Christianity in recent years and live underground, according to locals.

In February, thousands demonstrated against the release of a man facing the death penalty for converting to Christianity from Islam.

The man, Abdur Rahman, was released from prison and taken to Italy after international outrage and calls by Western leaders and Pope Benedict XVI.

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