South Korean government acts on refugee killings by American GIs

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South Korean government acts on refugee killings by American GIs

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Doc: 00270199


Sang-Hun Choe (Associated Press Writer)

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Copyright 2004 By The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ The South Korean government will identify and compile an official list of victims of the July 1950 killings of civilian refugees by U.S. troops at No Gun Ri under a new law, which also clears the way for a monument at the site.
The law, which takes effect in three months, also provides for medical assistance to survivors of the Korean War shootings, in which witnesses said up to 400 people were killed.
The legislation is a victory for the survivors, who denounced the U.S. government's 2001 report on the incident as a "whitewash." Survivors also rejected Washington's offer to build a monument because it would not have memorialized No Gun Ri, but all civilian victims of the 1950-53 war.
Survivors instead had lobbied the South Korean National Assembly for a Korean memorial, citing an urgent need for commemoration before aging survivors die.
The parliament unanimously passed the bill Feb. 9, in a 196-to-0 vote.
President Roh Moo-hyun signed it earlier this week, and the Ministry of Legislation said it would be officially posted Friday, to take effect in three months.
The law says it "aims to contribute to the promotion of human rights and national harmony in South Korea by restoring the honor of the victims and bereaved families of the No Gun Ri Incident."
The killings at No Gun Ri were first reported on Sept. 29, 1999, by a team of Associated Press reporters, who won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting.
Under the legislation, a 20-member government committee headed by the prime minister will compile an official list of victims, after asking survivors and family members to submit reports. It marks the first governmental effort to verify and count the victims, but officials warn it will be impossible to fix a precise number more than a half-century after the killings.
The law also authorizes the government to finance a monument at the village of No Gun Ri, 100 miles southeast of Seoul, and carry out other, unspecified commemorative projects, as well as provide medical expenses for victims. Survivors suffer bullet and shrapnel injuries and complain of psychological problems.
"We welcome the law. The monument will help console and vindicate the victims," said Chung Koo-do, spokesman of the victims' committee. "The U.S. government should investigate how the Pentagon investigation was distorted and whitewashed, and reveal the full truth about the No Gun Ri incident."
The survivors say Pentagon investigators suppressed critically important testimony and documents in issuing their January 2001 report.
The U.S. government admitted that 7th Cavalry Regiment soldiers killed or wounded an "unknown number" of refugees at No Gun Ri. But it denied U.S. commanders ordered the killings, and it absolved the U.S. military of criminal or other liability. It also questioned witness accounts of hundreds of dead.
Survivors said scores were killed when U.S. warplanes attacked their refugee column, and many more died afterward when American troops, over three days, fired on hundreds of refugees who sought shelter under a railroad bridge. They believe such attacks would have been impossible without orders.
Former President Clinton issued a "statement of regret" for the deaths, but Korean survivors demanded an official apology and compensation.
South Korea's Defense Ministry, in a parallel report in 2001, did not give an official body count but cited a partial list compiled in 2000 by the county government in the No Gun Ri area. That list said 177 people were believed killed and 71 were wounded or missing. Surviving villagers have said about 400 were killed, including 100 in the preceding attack by U.S. warplanes.
At least 35 U.S. Army veterans have described the events to the AP or Pentagon investigators, supporting the accounts of more than 30 Korean survivors. Some ex-soldiers agreed with the Koreans that hundreds were killed.
The AP also discovered 19 declassified U.S. military documents showing that in the three-year war's early months, high-ranking U.S. officers repeatedly ordered the indiscriminate shooting of civilians, fearing that refugee movements might hold North Korean enemy infiltrators.

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Sang-Hun Choe (Associated Press Writer), “South Korean government acts on refugee killings by American GIs,” No Gun Ri Digital Archives, accessed June 15, 2019,