S.Korea haggles with U.S. on soldier who ducked Iraq

SEOUL Thu Mar 15, 2007 10:26am EDT

A South Korean soldier (R) looks at a North Korean soldier standing guard behind a concrete border in the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in this November 1, 2006 file picture. A South Korean soldier may be a U.S. military deserter after he left his U.S. base and joined the South Korean army, apparently to avoid a tour of duty in Iraq, the defense ministry in Seoul said on Thursday. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won

A South Korean soldier (R) looks at a North Korean soldier standing guard behind a concrete border in the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in this November 1, 2006 file picture. A South Korean soldier may be a U.S. military deserter after he left his U.S. base and joined the South Korean army, apparently to avoid a tour of duty in Iraq, the defense ministry in Seoul said on Thursday.

Credit: Reuters/Lee Jae-Won

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SEOUL (Reuters) - A South Korean soldier may be a U.S. military deserter after he left his U.S. base and joined the South Korean army, apparently to avoid a tour of duty in Iraq, the defense ministry in Seoul said on Thursday.

The South Korean army private second class, whose identity was given only as Kim, joined the U.S. military in 2003 to become a permanent U.S. citizen on condition that he would serve in Iraq, a ministry official said.

In 2005, he visited his home country on leave just before his U.S. unit was to be deployed to Iraq and never went back, the South Korean defense ministry official.

Instead, as he still held a South Korean passport, he was called up by the South Korean military and began serving late last year due to mandatory military enlistment.

Kim's trouble with the U.S. military came to the surface when he went to the U.S. army headquarters in Seoul this month hoping to clear his name but was arrested on the spot.

"His status with the U.S. military is unclear, but he is definitely in the South Korean military," the South Korean official said, adding Kim had been bailed out and was back at his base awaiting the two militaries to work it out.

A U.S. military spokesman in Seoul declined to comment on Kim's case, saying: "This just has not happened before."

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