Envoys claim security protocol breach in Korea

SEOUL - Foreign diplomats in Seoul claimed that a male security official pulled Belarusian Ambassador Natallia Zhylevich from the security line and attempted to undo her jacket and frisk her in violation of diplomatic protocol during the Independence Day ceremony on March 1.

The attempted hands-on search took place even after the ambassador presented all her accreditation documents and diplomatic identification, passed through a metal detector and was checked yet again with a handheld device.

The Korea Herald obtained an official letter of complaint by the dean of the diplomatic corps here, Dato Harun Ismail, the Bruneian ambassador to South Korea.

"It goes without saying that the Council of Diplomatic Corps, which met on March 5, 2014, and I are extremely disturbed at this development," Ismail said in the letter, dated March 6.

Addressed to First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Cho Tae-yong, and copied to Foreign Affairs Minister Yun Byung-se, the letter describes the search as a violation of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

"Such a procedure is a disregard of international law, which clearly guarantees inviolability of the persons, honour and dignity of diplomatic representatives as stipulated by Article 29 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. We are representatives of sovereign countries in the Republic of Korea," Ismail said.

Zhylevich, along with all of the 100-plus foreign ambassadors to South Korea, was invited to attend the ceremony at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Seoul.

President Park Geun-hye spoke at the event, and diplomatic protocol and procedures customary to any formal state function should have been followed, said several ambassadors familiar with the incident.

For her part, the Belarusian ambassador said in her own complaint letter that "the MOFA protocol officer representation was not visible on the premises." The incident could have been avoided had a protocol officer been present from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said foreign envoys familiar with what happened.

The Presidential Security Service and the Ministry of Security and Public Administration were in charge of security for the ceremony.

Seo Bin, the director for diplomatic missions under the protocol affairs section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the incident was still being reviewed.