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Roh calls for approval of Iraq troop dispatch

3rd December 2003

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President Roh Moo-Hyun today urged parliament to move speedily to approve the dispatch of thousands of South Korean troops for stabilisation efforts in Iraq.

"There will be much debate, but the government will pursue without delay a parliamentary bill on troop deployment to Iraq," he said at a meeting with legislators back from an assessment visit to Iraq last month.

The ruling party began a boycott of the National Assembly last week after Roh vetoed an independent counsel investigation of a political funding scandal.

The boycott has stalled debate on the troop dispatch and other key motions including the 2004 budget.

Roh's comment followed an attack that killed two South Koreans in Iraq and injured two others on Sunday.

The four electrical company workers from Seoul were ambushed in their car on a highway near the Iraqi town of Tikrit.

It was unclear if Sunday's attack was random or deliberately targeted the South Koreans. Officials here believe it is part of a campaign by Iraqi insurgents to weaken support for the US-led occupation of Iraq.

Roh did not mention the size and timing of the South Korean contingent saying only that it would help Seoul and Washington bolster security ties.

"We need to make South Korea-US relations closer than before.

Now is when we truly need US support as we have to resolve the North Korean nuclear problem and other key security issues," he said.

Last month Roh said he would consider sending around 3 000 troops, mostly non-combatants, far fewer than the US requested. More than 400 non-combatants from South Korea are already in Iraq.

The sensitive US request for more troops has split South Korean public opinion and triggered pro- and anti-troop dispatch demonstrations in South Korea.

The US war on Iraq was unpopular in South Korea and the US-led occupation of the country is no less so.

At today's meeting with Roh, legislators urged the government to submit the bill quickly for deliberations in parliament, according to the president's office. – Sapa-AFP.

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