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South Korea Votes to Send Non-Combat Troops to Iraq - 2003-04-02

South Korea's Parliament has overwhelmingly approved the dispatch of non-combat troops to support the U.S.-led war in Iraq. South Korea's president said support for war in the Persian Gulf will help in the search for peace on the Korean Peninsula.

South Korea's National Assembly Wednesday voted 179 to 68 in favor of sending 700 medical and engineering troops to help the U.S.-led coalition now at war in Iraq. There were nine abstentions.

The lopsided vote came after South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun spoke strongly in favor of the proposal. He told legislators a positive vote would help improve ties with the United States, which have been strained by a wave of anti-Americanism in recent months.

President Roh said that sending the troops will strengthen the relationship with the United States by helping out when America is in a severe situation. He said this will lead to resolving the North Korean nuclear issue.

Many South Koreans have questioned their country's military alliance with the United States lately, and a majority say they oppose Washington's war policies in Iraq.

The vote on sending non-combat troops, which had been postponed twice, took place while hundreds of anti-war protesters sparred with riot police outside the National Assembly building. The police beat them back with plastic shields.

Tensions have been high on the Korean Peninsula since last October, when the United States said North Korea had an illegal program to develop nuclear weapons. Washington ended shipments of badly needed fuel to the North, and Pyongyang responded by withdrawing from the global nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and reopening an idled nuclear facility.

North Korea insists the United States intends to attack it, just as it has attacked Iraq, and many South Koreans also fear that such an attack is possible.

Washington and Seoul have both denied there are any plans for an attack and say they seek a peaceful solution to the nuclear dispute - although Washington also says it cannot rule out any option.

Pyongyang insists the issue can be resolved only through one-on-one talks with Washington. The Bush administration says it is willing to talk in a multilateral setting including North Korean's neighbors, and is seeking the support of South Korea, China, Japan and Russia for this policy.