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(3rd LD) S. Korean hostage in Libya freed: Cheong Wa Dae

11:45 May 17, 2019

(ATTN: RECASTS byline; UPDATES with more info from 12th para)
By Lee Chi-dong and Song Sang-ho

SEOUL, May 17 (Yonhap) -- A South Korean man who was abducted in Libya last year has been released thanks to a "decisive" role played by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the rescue effort, Cheong Wa Dae announced Friday.

The 62-year-old was taken hostage by a group of armed militants on July 6, along with three Filipinos, while working at a desalination plant in western Libya.

The man, identified only by his surname, Joo, was freed unharmed on Thursday (Seoul time), according to Chung Eui-yong, head of the presidential National Security Office.

Chung Eui-yong, head of Cheong Wa Dae's National Security Office, speaks at a press conference in Seoul on May 17, 2019. (Yonhap)

Chung said the UAE government played an active role in the release, as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan agreed to provide support for Seoul's related efforts during a summit with President Moon Jae-in in Seoul in late February.

He expressed the government's gratitude to several nations for efforts to help win the release.

"In particular, (I) convey a message of special thanks from our government and President Moon to the UAE government and Crown Prince Mohammed for playing a decisive role in Joo's release without sparing any possible support," Chung said.

In a separate announcement, the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation cited the county's "intensive" efforts in "coordination and cooperation" with the Libyan National Army.

"Upon receiving requests from the Philippines and South Korea, the UAE communicated with the Libyan National Army to work on releasing them and to ensure their safety," it said.

This file photo, taken on Feb. 27, 2019, shows South Korean President Moon Jae-in (R) meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates at Cheong Wa Dae. (Yonhap)

The Cheong Wa Dae official, meanwhile, said Joo is staying in Abu Dhabi under the protection of South Korea's diplomatic mission and is scheduled to return home on Saturday.

He added the kidnappers were confirmed to be members of a criminal group based in southern Libya.

"The government makes it clear that an act of abducting a foreigner is an inhumane criminal act that can never be accepted by the international community," he stressed.

Upon his release, Joo expressed his appreciation to the government and president while recalling difficulties during his captivity, a foreign ministry official here said.

"He seemed to be in relatively good health, but he mentioned that his eyesight has deteriorated a bit as he had been held in an enclosed place with no sunlight," the official said on condition of anonymity.

"(Joo) also said that he felt sorry as many people took pains (to secure his release)," he added.

Joo with a long beard noted difficulty staying alone with no one to chat with in Korean unlike the three Filipinos.

"He mentioned the 315 days of captivity, an indication that he had been counting each day ... He said he felt as if he had been held for 900 days," the official said.

Joo is known to have worked in Libya for decades, a reason why he could not easily leave the country despite travel restrictions that Seoul imposed in 2014.

The ministry official said that Joo is unlikely to face any punitive measure for having stayed in Libya despite the restrictions.

After he was held hostage last year, Seoul took stronger measures for travelers to Libya, including revoking their passports. But applying such measures to Joo is "inappropriate" as they were put in place after he was abducted, the official said.

Currently there are four South Koreans, mainly in their 50s or 60s, in Libya. They have rejected Seoul's call to leave the country, citing their livelihood concerns.

lcd@yna.co.kr

sshluck@yna.co.kr
(END)

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