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Korean Evangelicals Defy Bans to March for Peace in Kabul

ICC Note:

A Korean Christian Peace March event is going ahead in Kabul despite strong warnings from the governments of Afghanistan and South Korea – Afghanistan cannot guarantee the safety of the participants.

AsiaNews (08/02/06) – Around 1,000 South Korean evangelical Christians are currently in Afghanistan to take part in a “peace march” scheduled to be held from 5 to 8 August in Kabul . The event has been organized despite advice to the contrary and concern expressed by the Afghan and Korean governments.

The rally is being organized by the Institute of Asian Culture and Development (IACD), a religious-cultural umbrella organization of 900 Protestant denominations. This is the same group that held the “Jerusalem 2004” march in the holy city to call for “peace through prayer between Israelis and Palestinians”.

The Foreign Affairs Minister of Seoul has sought “in all ways” to convince the organizers to drop the rally. His Afghan counterpart even forbade visas to South Koreans asking to enter the country. An official of the Kabul government said: “This is a Muslim nation and the presence of Christian activists could offend many people. We have told the organizers but they are not listening to us.”

Refusing visas has not deterred would-be participants. The same source said “many entered from bordering countries but this is irresponsible behaviour.”

A representative of the Blue Office [ South Korea ’s presidential cabinet – ed] was more direct: “ Afghanistan has told us several times it is unable to guarantee the safety of participants. The state of law and order in Afghanistan is extremely volatile and there is a strong possibility of terrorism. More than 1,100 people have died in the past three months in military operations.” One of the members of ICAD has responded to concerns by saying: “This is a cultural not a religious event. The government is overreacting and the rally will proceed according to plan.”

In any case, Seoul overnight sent a task force from the Foreign Ministry and the Intelligence Service, to persuade the evangelicals to desist and bring them back and it has put military helicopters on alert in case of an emergency. An urgent meeting of involved parties has been called for this evening.

Around 175 evangelicals who have decided to stop in the city of Kandahar , a stronghold of Taleban militias, are giving especial cause for concern.