10 foreign martial artists vanish while in Korea for Cheongju tournament

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10 foreign martial artists vanish while in Korea for Cheongju tournament

Authorities are looking for 10 foreign martial artists allegedly on the run in Korea, after they disappeared from an international martial arts competition in Cheongju, North Chungcheong.

According to local police in North Chungcheong and the chair committee of the 2016 Cheongju World Martial Arts Masterships, three Sri Lankan jujutsu competitors entered Korea on Friday, but on Saturday abandoned their belongings, passports and flight tickets at their lodgings in Cheongwon, North Chungcheong, and disappeared, reportedly in their workout clothes.

Three Tajikistani belt wrestling competitors also disappeared after landing at Incheon International Airport at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday. They did not get in touch with the chair committee. Another Tajikistani competitor arrived at his lodging in Daejeon on Sunday, but later disappeared without contacting the committee.

Four athletes from Uzbekistan also left their accommodations in Cheongju on Sunday without telling the committee.

“The Uzbek participants got in touch with the committee today,” said a committee member on Monday. “They said they will be returning to their lodgings.”

One of them returned on Monday afternoon, according to the committee.

“The participants are staying in six different lodgings in Cheongju, Cheongwon and Daejeon provided by the committee,” said a PR manager of the competition. “There are police officers and committee members dispatched there for security and administration reasons, but we did not see an incident like this coming.”

He added, “The committee worked with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and local immigration offices to complete the proper background checks and issue visas to the participants.”

Authorities strongly suspect the foreign participants may be on the run in the hopes of staying in Korea illegally.

“The participants’ visas have not expired yet,” said the PR manager, “which means they are not currently illegally staying in Korea and cannot be rounded up as criminals. Their visas expire 30 days after their entrance into Korea.”

The Cheongju World Martial Arts Masterships invites athletes from all over the world to compete in various martial arts programs including taekwondo, kendo, wushu, judo, jujutsu, belt wrestling and more. This year, the competition’s first year, 1,479 competitors from 87 countries are participating.

The international competition opened on Friday and will be closing Thursday.

BY ESTHER CHUNG, CHOI JONG-KWON [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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