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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 June, 2004, 14:08 GMT 15:08 UK
Iraq hostage deadline 'extended'
Kim Sun-il with his captors in the video
The deadline expired at sunset on Monday
Islamic militants holding a South Korean man hostage in Iraq are said to have extended the deadline for his execution following talks.

They had threatened to behead Kim Sun-il, 33, on Monday evening unless South Korea ended its military role in Iraq.

But an Iraqi mediator says that a group of clerics who are in direct contact with the kidnappers have told him the deadline has been extended.

Mr Kim is reported to be alive and well in the capital Baghdad.

Despite the kidnapping, Seoul has insisted it will go ahead with plans to deploy 3,000 troops to northern Iraq, to add to a force of 600 already in the country.

'Provocative remarks'

Mohamed Obedi, an Iraqi who works for Korean security firm NKTS in Baghdad, said he was acting as a go-between in negotiations, talking to the South Korean government and to the Iraqi clerics.

Kim Sun-il
Kim has been working as a translator in Iraq

He said the militants had agreed to give more time for talks on Mr Kim's fate, but had not specified how long they would wait before carrying out their threat to execute him.

"The kidnappers have said they are willing to negotiate as long as the South Korean government stops making provocative remarks and softens its tone on troop deployment," Mr Obedi told Reuters news agency.

Meanwhile, a member of parliament for South Korea's ruling party said that acquaintances serving as religious co-ordinators in Iraq had seen Mr Kim alive and safe on Tuesday.

"Those clerics, who also had helped release Japanese hostages earlier, told me in telephone talks this morning and an email this evening they saw Kim Sun-il this morning in Baghdad," Kim Seung-gon told Reuters.

'My life is important'

In a video released by the militants on Sunday, which was broadcast on Arabic TV channel al-Jazeera, Mr Kim was seen screaming: "Korean soldiers, please get out of here. I don't want to die. My life is important."

The two-minute video showed the hostage surrounded by armed men wearing masks.

The tape said that the 24-hour deadline would expire at sunset on Monday and that the Korean would then be executed.

A banner identified the group as Jamaat al-Tawhid and Jihad, which is led by a top al-Qaeda member, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Last month, the same group beheaded an American hostage, Nick Berg, and it has been responsible for a number of other attacks, including the killing of Iraqi Governing Council head Ezzedine Salim.

Opposition to deployment

The South Korean troops to be deployed in Iraq are due to be involved in humanitarian and rebuilding work, and the area they are to be based in, near Kurdish-controlled Irbil, has been largely peaceful.

But the BBC's Charles Scanlon in Seoul says that internet chat sites suggest a majority of Koreans believe their troops should not be taking part in what they see as an immoral occupation.

Mr Kim's family has pleaded with the government to rethink its policy.

South Korea plans to evacuate all its civilians working in Iraq by early July.

The BBC's Charles Scanlon
"South Korea has sent a team of diplomats to Iraq"

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