Libya suspends diplomatic operations in S.Korea: ministry

SEOUL, July 26, 2010 (AFP) - Libya has suspended diplomatic operations in South Korea, officials said Monday, amid reports of worsening relations over the arrest of a Christian pastor and Seoul media coverage of Tripoli.

The foreign ministry confirmed Libya has closed its de facto embassy, an economic cooperation office, in Seoul and said Korean businessmen must now travel to other countries to get visas.

The ministry gave no reason for the move.

"There has been no formal notice that Libya will close its economic cooperation bureau here but we understand that operations there are temporarily suspended," spokesman Kim Young-Sun told a briefing.

Seoul and Tripoli have built strong economic ties since establishing diplomatic relations in 1980, with South Korean firms winning a series of massive civil engineering contracts there.

But the relationship turned sour in March when Libya complained that South Korean media and school textbooks had carried negative descriptions of leader Moamer Kadhafi and the country, JoongAng Ilbo newspaper said.

A South Korean Christian pastor has been detained in the Islamic nation for a month since his arrest for alleged missionary activities, a Seoul foreign ministry official told AFP.

"Consular access to the detained South Korean has been denied since his arrest on charges of violating Libya's religious law," the official handling the case said on condition of anonymity.

"He was arrested about a month ago and is still being detained for questioning. The government is trying to give him as much support as possible. It is rare to have one of our citizens detained in Libya."

The ministry official said another South Korean, a resident in Libya, is being questioned for allegedly helping the pastor.

Signs of trouble in the relationship prompted Lee Sang-Deuk, ruling party lawmaker and elder brother of President Lee Myung-Bak, to make a fence-mending trip to Libya from July 6-13, JoongAng said.

An aide to Lee Sang-Deuk told AFP the trip was largely to promote South Korean bidders for new projects to build power plants and subways. The foreign ministry denied Lee's trip was related to problems with the relationship.

A total of 29 South Korean Korean companies have worked on 288 construction projects worth a total 34.6 billion dollars in Libya since 1978.

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