In a New Year news conference at his presidential Blue House compound on Thursday, Roh said: "The time of their deployment is until the goals of the United States and the countries participating are largely met."

But he added: "I don't think the troop mission will be very long."

South Korea has 3600 troops in Iraq - the third largest
contin-gent after the US and Britain - deployed in the
Kurdish controlled town of Arbil purportedly for relief and rehabilitation work.

Their mission, originally to last until the end of 2004, was late last year extended until the end of 2005. 

"The purpose of the deployment is for peace and establishing order in Iraq and also for cooperation with the United States," the South Korean president, who visited his troops in Arbil in December, said.

He said his government was still checking a report that two South Koreans had been captured by a group in Iraq.

"We have yet to verify it. The government continues checking on that," Roh said.

Deadline set

A message posted last week on an Arabic website signed by an organisation describing itself as al-Jihad group said two
Koreans would receive "Allah's judgment" unless Seoul withdrew its troops from Iraq within 72 hours.

Roh visited South Korean troops
stationed in Arbil in December

The group said it would post the photos of the captives "in
several hours" but had yet to do so.

There was no way to verify the message, and officials in Seoul said they were uncertain as to the authenticity of the group. 

The foreign ministry reaffirmed on Thursday that all South Koreans known to be in Iraq had been accounted for and were safe. 

"However, we can't be 100% certain there are not others
there who we do not know about," a foreign ministry official said.

Groups have demanded Seoul withdraw its troops from Iraq. A group captured and beheaded a South Korean translator in June after Seoul rejected a demand that it cancel its plan to send troops to the country.