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S. Korea Won't Change Plans for Troops In Iraq - 2003-12-01

South Korea says it will not change its plans for troop deployment in Iraq despite the deaths of two South Korean engineers working there. Japan is debating whether to send troops to help rebuild the war-torn nation after two of its diplomats were shot dead there on Saturday.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan said Monday that Seoul is continuing its pledge to help with relief and reconstruction work in Iraq, despite the shooting deaths of two South Korean workers there. The announcement came after President Roh Moo-Hyun called a meeting earlier Monday of his National Security Council to discuss Iraq policy.

The men who died worked for a South Korean electrical company contracted by the U.S. military. They were killed Sunday when their vehicle was ambushed close to the Iraqi town of Tikrit. Two other South Koreans were injured. All four men were civilians.

The attack comes as President Roh mulls over a U.S. request for thousands more ground troops to help stabilize Iraq, where attacks against the United States and its allies happen daily. In the last three days, attacks have also killed Spaniards, a Colombian, and Americans.

Last month President Roh said he was considering sending three-thousand South Korean troops to Iraq, fewer than Washington wants. South Korea, like other nations, is deeply unnerved by the deadly attacks and put its troop dispatch plans on hold after a bomb killed 19 Italians in Southern Iraq.

Public opinion is divided in South Korea, where people have demonstrated on both sides of the issue.

In Japan, people remain stunned by the killing Saturday of two Japanese diplomats working in Iraq. The ambush, in which the diplomats were shot when they stopped to buy food at a roadside café, has raised greater resistance to the government's already unpopular plan to send non-combat troops.

Japan's constitution forbids its troops from taking part in combat while overseas and none of its military personnel have died in action since World War Two. A Japanese fact-finding team is now in Southern Iraq investigating whether it is safe enough for Japanese troops to carry out a humanitarian mission.

Japan's top officials underscored statements from Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Sunday that Tokyo is committed to helping rebuild Iraq.

Chief government spokesman Yasuo Fukuda said Monday that Japan's stance has not changed and pledged cooperation with the international community to work towards greater security in the Middle East.

Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi also addressed the issue. She says the government is adhering to a plan to send troops, but gave no indication of when they might be sent. She said the death of the diplomats is still under investigation. An editorial in the Asahi newspaper said whatever the reason, Japan cannot forgive the perpetrators and that the prime minister needed to recognize that it is not safe to deploy troops to Iraq. The Yomiuri newspaper offered support to Mr. Koizumi, calling the diplomats' deaths "a heartrending sacrifice" but saying Japan should not retreat from its offer of assistance in Iraq. Also adding to public concern in Japan is a warning from an alleged al-Qaida operative saying that if Japan sends troops to Iraq, Tokyo would be an easy terrorist target.

The comment, along with the recent deadly attacks against U.S. allies in Iraq, are widely seen in Japan as an intimidation tactic against nations contributing to that country's rebuilding.