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Friday, 22 November, 2002, 15:37 GMT
Korean anger as US soldiers cleared
Riot police try to block as South Korean civic group members and students stage an anti-US rally at Camp Casey
The trial has fuelled anti-US sentiment in South Korea
A US soldier who drove over two South Korean girls with a military vehicle has been cleared by a US military court.

Sergeant Mark Walker, who was driving the 50-tonne armoured vehicle when the incident happened in June, was found not guilty of negligent homicide.

His colleague and the vehicle's navigator and commander, Sergeant Fernando Nino, was cleared of similar charges on Wednesday.

A woman prays above photos of the two dead girls
The two girls were walking to a birthday party
The case, and the acquittals, have caused angry protests in South Korea and fanned anti-American sentiment - with opposition growing to the presence of 37,000 US troops stationed in South Korea to counter threats from the Communist North.

Dismissing the court cases as a sham, demonstrators hurled eggs and paint into the military camp where the trials were being held, and vowed to protest again on Saturday.

Following Friday's acquittal, army commander Lieutenant General Charles Campbell repeated the US military's apology over the deaths, but defended its legal system.

"I want again to express my sincere apology and deepest sympathy to the families of Shim Mi-Son and Shin Hyon-Sun. This was a tragic loss of life and we are deeply sorry," he said in a statement.

"Taken together, the verdicts in the two trials that were rendered by two different impartial panels indicate that what occurred was a tragic accident without criminal culpability."

Anti-US sentiment

South Korea's ruling Millennium Democratic Party has condemned Wednesday's acquittal of Sergeant Fernando Nino, the vehicle commander.

"We cannot accept this fraudulent verdict, which is unimaginable in any law-abiding country," said spokeswoman Lee Mi-kyung, describing the decision as an "outrage to heaven and earth".

The party also called for revisions to be made to the Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, which governs the legal treatment of US troops in South Korea.

The South Korean government had asked for jurisdiction in the case, but the US refused.

South Korea's Justice Ministry said it was "dissatisfied" by the verdict but respected the US process.

Shim Mi-sun and Shin Hyo-son, 14, were walking to a friend's birthday party on 13 June when they were mowed down by the US vehicle, which was taking part in a training exercise on the outskirts of Seoul.

The defence for Sergeant Nino argued that he alerted Sergeant Walker to the presence of the girls. The driver says he never heard the warning, because of an apparently defective communications system.

See also:

20 Nov 02 | Asia-Pacific
07 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
30 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
05 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
21 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
29 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
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