BB gun soldiers raise SOFA question

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BB gun soldiers raise SOFA question

The Seoul Yongsan Police Precinct, investigating the case of three U.S. soldiers accused of shooting BB guns in the international district of Itaewon, central Seoul, said yesterday they questioned a 23-year-old corporal in the hospital of the 8th U.S. Army Corps base in Yongsan, central Seoul.

The corporal they questioned, currently suspected of driving the car that was involved in the chase on Saturday night, is currently hospitalized after being shot by a Korean police officer.

In cooperation with the criminal investigation department, the police have collected blood and hair samples from the wounded soldier and sent them over to the National Forensic Service.

Late Saturday night, a Seoul citizen reported to the Itaewon Police Station that a group of American soldiers were threatening civilians with something like an air gun near the Hamilton Hotel.

A 30-year-old police officer surnamed Lim was nearby when a taxi driver surnamed Choi, 38, told him what he saw and asked the officer to get in his cab.

Officer Lim and the taxi driver chased the soldiers and eventually followed them into a dead end in Seongsu-dong, Gwangjin District, eastern Seoul.

The soldiers drove at Lim four times after seeing the officer getting out of the taxi.

Lim then fired three live bullets into the car, but the soldiers fled after hitting Lim in the knee with their car.

The two other soldiers, a 26-year-old staff sergeant and a 22-year-old female corporal who were summoned by the police on Monday admitted most of their allegations. They testified that they fired BBs at civilians.

The police questioned the two separately, and they pointed to a different person when the police asked who the driver of the car was and who led the shooting.

The police also said that the National Forensic Service identified the 23-year-old corporal’s DNA from a bloodstain found on the driver’s side seat. The police also found 30 BBs in the sedan, but the BB gun wasn’t found.

Since the investigation was delayed and the police were forced to visit the hospital to investigate, a clause in the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) which has been considered an obstacle to Korean authorities swiftly doing their job is once again under fire.

The No. 22 Clause of the SOFA states, “All judicial process will be terminated if a suspect’s whereabouts is under U.S. Forces Korea [USFK] authority,” and “Though a suspect is under arrest by Korean authorities they must hand over the suspect when the USFK makes a request for extradition.”

Under the condition, Korean authorities do not have legal grounds to run a compulsory investigation against USFK suspects unless said suspects are caught in the act.

By Lee Yu-jeong, Kwon Sang-soo []
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