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AFGHANISTAN DEPORTS CHRISTIAN KOREANS

By CHRIS HAWKE, Associated Press Writer Thu Aug 3, 4:31 PM ET

KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghanistan ordered hundreds of South Korean Christians to leave the country, accusing them Thursday of seeking to undermine its Islamic culture.

The group's leader, Choi Han-woo, denied the 1,200 South Koreans, who had gathered in Afghanistan for relief work and a cultural festival, took part in any religious activities.

Interior Ministry spokesman Yousef Stanezai said the Koreans entered the country with tourist visas, but their activities showed they had a different agenda.

"The program was against the Islamic culture and customs of Afghans," he said, adding that the South Koreans had been told to leave the country as soon as possible.

The accusations come amid increasing intolerance and violence against foreign troops in Afghanistan, a crackdown in the capital on drinking and prostitution linked to foreign influences, and the recent announcement of a plan to reinstate the Vice and Virtues Ministry, which enforced its harsh version of Islamic morality under the ousted Taliban government.

Representatives of the group and the ministry were negotiating Thursday over the schedule for their deportation, said a spokesman for the group, Sung Han Kang.

Kang said the group, a non-governmental organization called the Institute of Asian Culture & Development, had a Christian background but was not trying to win converts.

Rather, its members began entering the country a month ago to provide computer and business training, medical and dental care and arrange sports activities in five cities, he said.

A now-canceled Peace Festival at the main stadium in Kabul, intended to mark the group's fifth year of volunteer work in Afghanistan, was to culminate the visit on Aug. 5-7, he said.

In western Herat province, authorities put about 200 Koreans on a bus and deported them to Uzbekistan on Wednesday, a top provincial official said.

The Koreans had gone from house to house in groups of two or three, and "it was rumored among the people they have plans to convert the people to Christianity," said Faiaz Mhrain, the governor's chief of staff.

Kang confirmed the Koreans were deported from Herat but said they were sent to Iran.

A Herat police official said he escorted the Koreans to historic sites under tight security and they performed a religious ceremony. "One did a religious reading while another played music," said Maser Ahmad Paykar.

When asked how he knew the ceremony was religious, he said, "I don't know. It was in Korean. It was kind of religious."

In the country's north, a member of the cleric council in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, Adbul Hadey, said 3,000 people gathered in the city's main mosque to demand the South Koreans be thrown out of the province.

Kang dismissed all the accusations as false rumors, but conceded his group may have sung songs among themselves in their own language.

He also said Interior Ministry officials told him the group was being deported for their own protection and not due to security fears.

 

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