South Korea considers joining coalition to patrol waters off Iran

South Korean naval vessels sail across the Yeosu Sea in this file photo. (Shutterstock)
Updated 12 July 2019

South Korea considers joining coalition to patrol waters off Iran

  • Multinational naval force aims to protect shipping in Arabian Gulf in face of Tehran threats

SEOUL: The South Korean government is in discussions with the US over plans to join a multinational naval coalition to protect shipping in the Arabian Gulf in the face of alleged Iranian threats, Foreign Ministry officials revealed on Thursday.

The move came after Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated the US was holding talks with several nations to send ships to safeguard waters surrounding Iran and Yemen.

“The (South Korean) government is concerned about the escalation of tensions in the Middle East region,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Kim In-chul said in a briefing. 

“Our position is that freedom of navigation and commerce should not be put into jeopardy.”

The spokesman said his ministry has yet to receive any formal request on the coalition matter.

“We’ll keep discussing the issue with the US side,” Kim said. “No details have been discussed yet about when, how and what we would do.”

Washington is seeking to enlist its allies for a multinational coalition to operate in waters off Iran and Yemen to secure commercial shipping and prevent attacks that could harm the world’s oil supply.

Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. (AFP)

A fifth of the oil that is consumed globally passes through the Strait of Hormuz, connecting the Indian Ocean with the Gulf. 

“We’re engaging now with a number of countries to see if we can put together a coalition that would ensure freedom of navigation both in the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab Al-Mandeb,” Dunford said on Tuesday.

“Probably over the next couple of weeks we’ll identify which nations have the political will to support that initiative and then we’ll work directly with the militaries to identify the special capabilities that will support that.”

He said the US military would provide “command and control” ships, while other coalition members should send ships to patrol waters between the American naval vessels.

South Korea has participated in previous US-led coalition operations, as the country has long been dependent on US military forces for protection against North Korea, with the two Koreas technically still at war.

In 2004, South Korea sent a 3,600-strong continent to Iraq for humanitarian and rehabilitation operations. About 200 engineers and medics were also dispatched to Afghanistan in support of the US war on terrorism.

The South Korean Navy is a member of anti-piracy operations in the Somali waters. 

The unit, called “Cheonghae,” has escorted thousands of South Korean and international vessels in and around the Gulf of Aden since 2009.

As of February, the Cheonghae Unit escorted 21,895 vessels and conducted 21 operations to counter piracy on the seas, according to the service. 

The total sailing distance of the unit amounted to 1.95 million km.

It also takes part in the Combined Maritime Force, a multinational naval force dedicated to maintaining maritime safety and combating piracy, and conducts joint military drills with the EU’s maritime security operations.

Iraqi blogger returns day after kidnapping

Updated 18 October 2019

Iraqi blogger returns day after kidnapping

  • “Around 15 men wearing masks and black uniforms” took Al-Khafaji from his home, the blogger’s father said
  • Twenty-four hours later, hei was “abandoned in a street with $20 to pay for a taxi home”

BAGHDAD: A prominent Iraqi blogger resurfaced Friday a day after he was seized by masked gunmen, his father said, as Amnesty International denounced a “climate of fear” in the country after protests and deadly violence.
Shujaa Al-Khafaji’s family said armed men had snatched him from his home on Thursday without identifying themselves or showing an arrest warrant.
Khafaji’s Facebook page, Al-Khowa Al-Nadifa (Arabic for “Those Who Have Clean Hands“), carries posts on political and social issues and has some 2.5 million followers.
“Around 15 men wearing masks and black uniforms” took Khafaji from his home, the blogger’s father, Fares Al-Khafaji, told AFP.
He said they seized his son’s phones and computers, but were not violent.
Twenty-four hours later, Khafaji was “abandoned in a street with $20 to pay for a taxi home,” his father added.
The report of Khafaji’s seizure sparked an outcry from activists and influential political leaders.
Rights watchdog Amnesty International denounced a “relentless campaign of intimidation and assault against activists in Iraq” by authorities.
“The Iraqi authorities must immediately rein in the security forces and dismantle the climate of fear they have deliberately created to stop Iraqis from peacefully exercising their rights to freedoms of expression and assembly,” said Lynn Maalouf, the group’s Middle East research director.
The group said other activists, including a doctor and a lawyer, were “forcibly disappeared more than 10 days ago,” and called on Iraqi authorities to reveal their whereabouts.
Firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr wrote on Twitter that “any act of aggression (against journalists or activists)... by the state constitutes an attack on freedom of speech.”
Former prime minister Haider Al-Abadi’s parliamentary bloc called on the government “to stop abuses of free media.”
Iraq was gripped by anti-government protests between October 1 and 6, during which 110 people, mainly demonstrators, were killed in clashes with security forces.
During the protests, unidentified armed men in uniforms raided several local television stations in Baghdad, destroying their equipment and intimidating their staff.
Journalists and activists also reported receiving threats, mostly by phone, from unidentified callers accusing them of having sided with the protesters.
Khafaji faced online harassment last month after a string of attacks on bases of the Hashed Al-Shaabi, a paramilitary force dominated by pro-Iran groups.
The group on Thursday denied any involvement in the disappearance of activists, threatening legal action against anyone making such accusations.
But according to Amnesty, the Hashed was involved in at least one abduction — that of lawyer Ali Hattab, who represented protesters and was seized on October 8 in the southern city of Amara.
He was snatched by “suspected members of a faction of the Popular Mobilization Units (Hashed),” Amnesty said quoting Hattab’s relatives.
It happened two days after “two armed men from the PMU came to (his) home to warn him to stop being vocal about the killing of protesters on Facebook, otherwise they would kill him,” Amnesty added.