Afghanistan to expel over 1,000 S. Korean Christian evangelicals

Kabul, Afghanistan - More than 1,000 South Korean Christian evangelicals who have entered Afghanistan for a "peace festival" will be expelled from the Muslim country, an Afghan official said Wednesday.

The South Koreans, who arrived on tourist visas for a rally called the 2006 Afghanistan Peace Festival, will be expelled "soonest possible because we cannot guarantee their safety here," the high-ranking official said on condition of anonymity.

He said that even though the South Koreans were warned not to "preach religion" while in the country, in some cases they have been seen trying to evangelize Muslims in some regions.

"This can be terribly provocative and can create problems for Afghan government," he said.

He said the Afghan government has made this decision in coordination with the South Korean embassy in Kabul.

The event is organized by the Institute of Asian Culture and Development -- an organization been working in Afghanistan for four years -- and is set to take place at five major Afghan cities for three days starting from Saturday.

More than 20 South Koreans who arrived at Kabul airport on Tuesday were the first to be stopped and sent back to India, from where they had entered Afghanistan, an Interior Ministry official said.

On Wednesday, more than 500 Islamic clerics took part in a protest against the visitors in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, where more than 200 Korean Christians are attending a "peace festival" despite warnings by Afghan and south Korean governments that they could be targets for attacks.

Religion is a sensitive matter in Afghanistan's strictly Islamic society.

In February, thousands of people demonstrated against the release of an Afghan man who had faced the death penalty for converting to Christianity from Islam. The man, Abdur Rahman, was released from prison and then spirited to Italy after international outrage and calls by Western leaders and Pope Benidict.