중앙데일리

SOFA protests continue here

Dec 26,2002
Protests against the current terms of the Status of Forces agreement that governs criminal jurisdiction over U.S. troops in Korea continued over the holiday. More candlelight rallies were held to call for revisions of the agreement, a public apology by U.S. President George W. Bush and punishment of the two soldiers the protesters say were criminally responsible for a training accident in June in which two teenagers died. The Christmas day protest in Seoul was small; about 80 persons gathered in a park near Gwanghwamun in central Seoul.

On Tuesday, though, 1,500 people joined a rally organized by the Pan National Committee, the leader of the protests. Similar events were held in other major cities. A JoongAng Daily staff member at the scene of the Seoul gathering said the police presence was very heavy, with double rows of police buses blocking both sides of Sejong-no, the street near Gwanghwamun where the U.S. Embassy is located.

Pan National Committee Secretary General Choi Hui-byeong said the committee would continue its demonstrations. Korean and U.S. military officials are working on a package of changes to the SOFA, as the bilateral agreement on U.S. troops is called, most of them seemingly more symbolic than substantive. That effort has failed to impress the demonstrators.

As worries about anti-American sentiment increased in Korea, the national police and U.S. authorities agreed to install direct communications links to coordinate responses to violence or threats of violence against U.S. soldiers. The links were requested by U.S. Forces Korea officials after at least two incidents in which U.S. soldiers were accosted by angry civilians; one U.S. officer reportedly suffered minor knife wounds in an attack by several unidentified men.

Despite the tension, police officials in Itaewon, a shopping and club district adjacent to the U.S. Yongsan Garrison, said their daily patrols with U.S. military police have not been stepped up. "We are doing it to prevent U.S. soldiers from committing crimes," a police officer there told the JoongAng Daily. The U.S. Army's radio station is urging GIs who live near the base to travel to and from their homes by a new military bus service rather than walking or taking civilian taxis.

by Koh Han-sun




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