Lee presses flesh, talks trade, in Central America

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Lee presses flesh, talks trade, in Central America


President Lee Myung-bak, fourth from left, at the opening of the Central America Integration System (SICA) summit in Panama City, Tuesday. Left to right: Dominican Republic Vice-President Rafael Alburquerque, Hondura’s President Porfirio Lobo, El Salvador’s President Mauricio Funes, Lee, Panama’s President Ricardo Martinelli, Costa Rica’s President Laura Chinchilla, Guatemala’s President Alvaro Colom, and Belize’s Ambassador to Guatemala Alfredo Martinez. By Cho Mun-gyu

PANAMA CITY - President Lee Myung-bak held a series of bilateral talks here Tuesday with his counterparts from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Costa Rica, which he used to seek closer economic cooperation and request tougher safety measures for Korean residents in the Central American countries.

In his summit with Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom, Lee asked for help in resolving the growing problem of crimes against South Koreans there, according to his office. More than 10,000 South Koreans live in Guatemala, the largest number among Central American nations.

Lee also asked the Guatemalan government to continue support for 145 South Korean firms operating in the country.

Colom promised to step up efforts to protect Korean firms and nationals, saying they are contributing greatly to Guatemala’s economic development, the Blue House said in a press release.

Meeting Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, Lee made a more specific request.

He raised the issue of a 27-year-old Korean woman, Han Ji-soo, who is accused of being involved in a murder case. Han, a diving instructor, was indicted as an accomplice in the 2008 killing of a Dutch backpacker in Honduras. Han was arrested by Interpol in August 2009 in Egypt on her way back to Korea. She is awaiting trial after being released on bail in December, while claiming innocence.

“A young Korean woman is on trial in Honduras. I hope you will pay special attention to the issue,” Lee was quoted as saying by his office.

Lee and El Salvador’s President Mauricio Funes agreed in a separate summit to expand partnerships between the two nations in trade, investment, infrastructure and energy fields.

In a summit with Costa Rica’s President Laura Chinchilla, Lee noted the country’s campaign for green growth.

“The leaders agreed on close cooperation with regard to environmental issues on the global stage,” the Blue House said.

Earlier in the day, Lee met with Dominican Republic Vice President Rafael Alburquerque and asked for support for Korean companies there.

Lee is on a three-day visit to Panama from Monday to attend the first group summit between Korea and the Central American Integration System (SICA) since 2005, which also includes Belize and Nicaragua. Lee had a one-on-one summit with Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli Monday.

Lee is scheduled to leave for Mexico on Wednesday, the third and last leg of his weeklong trip, which also took him to Canada for the G-20 economic summit. Lee plans to return to Seoul on Saturday.

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