Fix the rift quickly

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Fix the rift quickly

Relations between South Korea and Libya are facing a perilous turning point. Following its decision to deport an intelligence agent of the Korean Embassy in Tripoli last month by declaring him persona non grata, the Libyan government is allegedly detaining two Korean local residents after arresting them on charges of illegal missionary work.

Now, with the entire staff of the Economic Cooperation Bureau of Libya having left South Korea, our businessmen are having trouble visiting the country since the bureau has stopped issuing visas. There is also growing apprehension that the latest developments in bilateral relations could be detrimental to business with Libya, the fourth largest overseas construction market for South Korea.

Regardless of the details, it is regrettable that our relationship has taken such a sudden turn for the worse. We believe that it would be in the best interests of both countries to eliminate further misunderstandings - if there are any - and correct them as quickly as possible.

According to what we know so far, it seems to be our diplomat’s intelligence-collecting activities that have caused such a drastic reaction from Libya. Our government argues that the diplomat’s activity did not go beyond the limits set by the Libyan government, but Tripoli seems to perceive the situation differently. Local news media reported that the diplomat attempted to collect information on Muammar el-Qaddafi and his son - a taboo in Libya - which annoyed the Libyan leader.

To solve the stalemate, Lee Sang-deuk, President Lee Myung-bak’s elder brother and a lawmaker from the ruling Grand National Party, has already visited Libya as a special envoy, and a delegation of our intelligence agency is now negotiating with the relevant Libyan officials to resolve the situation.

But there must be some reason for Libya’s abrupt change in attitude, as the country, which has long maintained a friendly relationship with South Korea, is suddenly attempting to find fault with our diplomat’s information-gathering efforts. The government first needs to figure out whether the current friction originated from our diplomat or something else.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries. So far, South Korea has received 288 construction orders, amounting to a whopping $34.6 billion, from Libya, and 51 construction projects are still in progress. Libya is also cited as a model for resolving North Korea’s nuclear ambition since it voluntarily scrapped its weapons of mass destruction programs in 2003. We urge our government to not disrupt business by resolving the rift as soon, and as smoothly, as possible.
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