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SEOUL, Republic of Korea (March 18, 1999 - Agence France-Presse)---A South Korean ship manager faces trial on charges of kidnapping a Kiribati policeman after he commandeered one of his fishing boats impounded by the central Pacific nation, police said Thursday.

Lee Jung-Woo, the manager of the tuna-catching Jasmine 9 captured off Kiribati last month, was charged with illegally detaining the Kiribati policeman aboard the ship, the police said.

"The authorities will press charges against him for illegal detention," a foreign ministry official here said.

The Kiribati policeman, identified as Arawatau Kauriri, is scheduled to return home on Sunday after receiving hospitable treatment here, he said.

Seoul has rejected a demand from the Kiribati authorities that Lee and the ship be handed back to them, saying Lee will be punished under South Korean laws, the ministry official said.

Lee was arrested on arriving at the southern port of Pusan on March 5, but was released on bail of 30 million won (US$ 24,300).

Lee and 12 of the crew commandeered the Jasmine 9 from Kiribati's Tarawa harbor, where it had been impounded after being caught engaging in illegal fishing. Two policemen were on board the ship, but one jumped overboard.

Lee, the head of a South Korean company managing the 658-ton boat, claimed he was staging an escape after Kiribati police tried to arrest him when he went there to negotiate the release of the ship and crew.

Michael J Field, Agence France-Presse, Auckland, New Zealand Tel: (64 21) 688-438; Fax: (64 21) 694-035; E-Mail: afp.nz@clear.net.nz Website: http://www.afp.com/english/

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