SEOUL // South Korea will send 150 special forces troops to the UAE to train Emirati soldiers in counter-terrorism and counterinsurgency.
The deployment by the start of next year is part of wide-ranging and deepening economic, diplomatic and military ties between Abu Dhabi and Seoul, highlighted by the US$20 billion (Dh73.4bn) sale of four nuclear energy reactors to the UAE last year.
The announcement by the defence ministry in Seoul came after South Korea's cabinet approved the deployment, which is expected easily to win the support of the National Assembly, South Korea's legislature. The legislation passed to the Assembly simply authorises the sending of soldiers without stating their exact purpose.
A spokesman for the defence ministry said sending South Korean troops to the UAE grew naturally from expanding economic ties.
"The UAE is a big market for us to sell our products," he said. UAE officials did not comment.
South Korea imports 14 per cent of its oil from the UAE, second in the region after Saudi Arabia, which provides 31 per cent of the country's oil imports. Kuwait ranks third at 12 per cent and Iran is fourth at 9.6 per cent. Overall, the Middle East supplies about 80 per cent of South Korea's oil.
Besides extensive ties with the UAE, the East Asian nation has widespread defence links elsewhere in the Middle East.
South Korea deployed 3,000 troops in northern Iraq, mainly on construction and medical projects, before withdrawing them two years ago, and 232 South Korean soldiers remain in Afghanistan to protect South Korea's provincial reconstruction team there.
The UAE has also deployed special forces troops in Afghanistan. In another sign of South Korea's commitment to helping to secure the region for trade, Seoul authorised a one-year extension for the 366 members of a naval unit, that includes a destroyer based in Aden, for patrolling pirate-infested waters off the coast of Somalia. The destroyer and its crew were to have left at the end of this year, but instead could become a semi-permanent force in partnership with vessels from a number of other countries in the Indian Ocean.
South Korean analysts have speculated that the deployment of the force in Aden may explain why terrorists blew up an oil pipeline last week operated by the Korean National Oil Corporation in Yemen. Damage was minimal, but more such incidents are expected.
"So many Korean companies and workers are in the Middle East," the defence spokesman said. "We want to help to increase peacemaking and stability in the region."