July 28, 2010 12:20
The Libyan government apparently deported a South Korean agent for spying last month and declared him persona non grata. But a South Korean diplomatic source claimed the arrest was a "misunderstanding" and the man, who works for the National Intelligence Service, was only gathering "routine" information about joint defense industry projects between North Korea and Libya.
South Korea and Libya mark 30 years of diplomatic ties this year. But the two countries have had several incidents last month. A South Korean missionary in Libya and a farm owner who helped him there were arrested, and Libyan officials stationed in the economic mission in Seoul, which serves as the de facto embassy, were suddenly recalled.
The exact cause of the latest diplomatic spat remains unclear. But looking at international precedent, diplomatic friction involving intelligence officials have usually ended up damaging both sides if they were publicized and blown out of proportion. It would be a shame if the mutually beneficial relationship is damaged, since it would require needless effort in both countries to restore them.
South Korean construction companies in Libya are complaining that their workers have difficulties getting visas. South Korean builders won US$3.1 billion worth of contracts in Libya last year alone and a consortium formed by nine companies including POSCO, Lotte and Kolon Construction is competing to win a $4 billion urban railway project in the capital Tripoli. Korean cars apparently account for more than 50 percent of all automobiles in Tripoli. Libyans also stand to experience quite a number of inconveniences if their government severs diplomatic ties with Korea.
Diplomatic sources say officials from both governments are meeting in Tripoli to resolve the spat. Grand National Party lawmaker Lee Sang-deuk visited Tripoli early this month as a special envoy of President Lee Myung-bak, but returned empty-handed after failing to meet Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi. This demonstrates the complexity of the dispute. The wise thing to do would be to take bold steps as soon as possible so that a drawn-out diplomatic dispute can be avoided in order to protect the mutually beneficial relationship.
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