S. Korea evacuates peacekeeping troops from S. Sudan

South Korean peacekeeping troops on Friday departed for home from South Sudan on a chartered flight, the defense ministry said, as the arrival of a replacement contingent is delayed due to coronavirus concerns.

The Seoul government-arranged Ethiopian Airlines flight took off from the African nation at around 9:50 p.m. (12.30 p.m. GMT) to bring home roughly 200 service members of the 270-strong Hanbit Unit after their nine-month rotational mission.

“After a stopover in Ethiopia, the plane is expected to land at Incheon International Airport at around 11:10 a.m. local time on Saturday,’’ the ministry said, adding that the service members are scheduled to be self-quarantined for two weeks.

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It added that their departure came without replacement, as South Sudan asked South Korea and other foreign countries not to send fresh troops in due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The military authorities decided to take the service personnel home to guarantee their right to vote in the parliamentary elections slated for April 15, and some service members are set to be discharged from the military next month.

According to the ministry, the remaining troops will stay there to perform basic surveillance duties until a replacement contingent arrives.

It refused to give the exact number of service members set to return home, citing security issues.

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“We will continue to make diplomatic efforts, including consultations with the host nation and the UN.

“To also swiftly send the new 12th batch at the earliest possible date so as to make the Hanbit Unit carry out normal operations,’’ the ministry said in a release.

South Korea began troop deployments to the war-torn nation in 2013 at the UN’s request in accordance with a UN Security Council resolution aimed at assisting peaceful reconstruction work.

The African nation declared its independence from its Arab-dominated northern neighbor Sudan in July 2011 after decades of civil war that killed over two million people.

As of Friday, South Korea had 9,332 COVID-19 infections, including 139 deaths.

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Across the globe, over 530,000 cases have been reported so far, and over 24,000 have died. (Yonhap/NAN)