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Wednesday, 7 August, 2002, 10:56 GMT 11:56 UK
US refuses Korean justice for soldiers
The US flag is depicted as dripping blood in a protest outside the US embassy in Seoul
Protesters say the US troops have blood on their hands
The US Army has rejected a South Korean request to give up jurisdiction over two of its soldiers whose armoured vehicle struck and killed two South Korean girls.

The South Korean Justice Ministry had wanted to try the soldiers in a civilian case.

But the US Army did not want to set a precedent by allowing civilian proceedings against military personnel who had been involved in official duties when an accident occurred.

A woman prays above photos of the two dead girls
Protests against US troops have demanded justice for the dead girls
The deaths of the two 14-year-old girls has sparked many protests in and around Seoul by South Koreans who believe their government should have more power over foreign troops stationed in the country.

The US military has apologised several times and promised financial compensation to the victims' families.

The two soldiers involved - Sergeant Mark Walker and Sergeant Fernando Nino - have been charged with negligent homicide and it is expected they will face a court-martial.

One-off case

But South Korea's Ministry of Justice asked the US on 10 July to allow civilian proceedings.

The US Army may allow local proceedings against its soldiers stationed abroad.

There was insufficient cause for a precedent-setting transfer of jurisdiction

US Lieutenant-General Daniel Zanini
But Colonel Kent Meyer, the Judge Advocate of United States Forces Korea (USFK), said jurisdiction had been waived just once before, in Japan in 1957, where a soldier shot and killed a woman collecting bullet cartridges at a firing range.

In a statement issued by the USFK, Colonel Meyer said: "In that case the act was intentional, not an accident like the current situation here in Korea where it is indisputable that the individuals involved were clearly acting in the performance of their official duties."

Vehicle ban

The USFK Chief of Staff, Lieutenant-General Daniel Zanini, said the civilian investigation results largely mirrored those of the military inquiry.

"I concluded there was insufficient cause for a precedent-setting transfer of jurisdiction," General Zanini said.

Map of South Korea showing Seoul and Uijongbu
Sergeants Walker and Nino were on a training mission at Uijongbu near the border with North Korea on 13 June when their armoured bridge-carrier struck and killed Shim Mi-son and Shin Hyo-sun.

The US Army said all vehicles of the type involved in the accident had now been banned from roads.

It said it was also implementing more than 20 measures to improve safety during training exercises including:

  • Better notification for community leaders

  • Extra mirrors to improve visibility for drivers

  • Intercom systems between vehicle drivers and commanders

The two soldiers involved face up to six years in prison if convicted at court-martial. A South Korean civilian court could impose a sentence of up to five years on the same negligent homicide charge.

Opponents of the 37,000-strong US force based in South Korea to guard against the North, have staged several protests following the accident.

In the most violent, a group of students stormed a US Army base and attacked troops there last week.

See also:

30 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
05 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
29 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
21 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
29 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
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