[Documents menu] Documents menu

Double failure for US-South Korea military talks

AFP, Thursday 7 December 2000, 7:30 PM SGT

SEOUL, Dec 7 (AFP)—The United States and its key Asian ally South Korea failed to reach agreement Thursday in separate key talks on a 50-year-old wartime massacre and current jurisdiction over US troops.

Negotiations on a joint statement on investigations into an alleged massacre of civilians during the Korean War collapsed despite all-night negotiations.

And discussions on revising an accord on jurisdiction over the 37,000 US troops in South Korea were not even convened for a scheduled final day, so far apart were the two sides.

South Korean negotiators admitted that it had been impossible to make a breakthrough on talks on the killing of civilians at the small village of No Gun Ri in July 1950.

South Korean accounts have said hundreds of civilians were killed by US troops who opened fire on refugees fleeing the approaching North Korean army.

We decided to have further talks to finalize it, said the South Korean government’s head delegate Kim Byoung-Ho.

No schedule for new talks was set, but Kim said both sides planned to wind up the case before US President Bill Clinton left office in January.

The disagreement was reportedly over whether a premeditated US military order had been made to shoot the Koreans.

Over the past year, Seoul and Washington have held their own separate investigations into the incident at No Gun Ri, 214 kilometers (134 miles) south of Seoul.

A US Defense Department probe into the wartime affair found no conclusive evidence soldiers were ordered to kill, suggesting instead their attack was sparked by panic, a US report said Wednesday.

The Washington Post, quoting a US Army draft report, also said it remained impossible to establish how many civilians had been killed.

At the latest talks, the US explanation was rejected by Seoul, officials said.

On Thursday, the US negotiators met and listened to relatives of the victims, including Chung Un-Yong, head of the Korean support group that plans legal action to seek 200 million dollars in damages.

South Korean survivors have also demanded an official US apology. The demand has been supported by some politicians.

Chung told AFP on Wednesday that the United States was denying the truth for the sake of its face-saving and national interest, insisting Seoul should boycott any joint statement stipulating the killings were not deliberate.

The No Gun Ri case and talks on revising an accord governing the status of US troops has proved an unwanted test of the key military alliance.

US and South Korean negotiators did not even go ahead with the scheduled seventh and final day of talks on the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).

Seoul officials admitted this was because the talks were at a standstill.

We asked the US side to inform us of any change in its position at Wednesday’s meeting to resume talks today, but no information has arrived yet, a South Korean foreign ministry source said.

Right now, it’s unclear whether the talks will resume or not.

The main point of contention is Seoul’s strong call for greater jurisdiction over US soldiers accused of crimes committed in South Korea.

US troops accused of a crime have been kept in US military custody until they are convicted by a local court, while Seoul wants to put the US military criminal suspect under its control from the pre-trial period.

The United States has sought strong legal guarantees, mainly highlighting the differing legal systems in the two countries.

The two sides have also disagreed over clauses on environmental pollution caused by the US military. US negotiators have reportedly resisted attempts to have environmental regulations in the accord.