U.S., South Korea disagree on Korean War deaths


SEOUL, AFP

U.S. and South Korean officials on Thursday failed to reach agreement about inquiries into the alleged massacre of civilians by U.S. troops 50 years ago, officials said.

South Korean negotiators, who had held a marathon overnight meeting here with U.S. counterparts to work out a joint statement on the results of probes into the massacre, admitted no breakthrough had been made.

“We decided to have further talks to finalize it,” said the head delegate Kim Byoung-ho, from the Prime Minister’s Office.

No schedule for the next round of talks was set, but Kim said both sides planned to wind up the case before U.S. President Bill Clinton’s tenure in the White House expires in January next year.

He did not elaborate further, but the dissent was reportedly over whether a premeditated order by the U.S. military had been made to shoot Korean refugees.

Over the past year, Seoul and Washington have held their own separate investigations into the incidents at No Gun Ri, 214 kilometers (134 miles) south of Seoul, during the 1950-53 Korean War.

Over three days around July 26, 1950, American soldiers were alleged to have gunned down Korean civilians fleeing the North Korean army. The South’s accounts have said hundreds were killed.

But a Pentagon probe into the wartime incident found no conclusive evidence soldiers were ordered to kill, suggesting instead their attack was sparked by panic, a U.S. report said Wednesday.

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

At the latest talks, the U.S. explanation was rejected by Seoul.

And as the No Gun Ri case tested the long-standing friendly relations between Washington and Seoul, other talks on revising an accord which governs the status of 37,000 U.S. troops here also stalled.

A separate set of U.S.-South Korean negotiations was set to enter its seventh and final day in Seoul Thursday on the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), but did not go ahead.

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

“We asked the U.S. side to inform us of any change in its position at Wednesday’s meeting to resume talks today, but no information has arrived yet,” an unidentified 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 faster jurisdiction over U.S. soldiers accused of crimes committed in South Korea.

U.S. troops accused of a crime have been kept in U.S. military custody until they are convicted by a local court, while Seoul wants to put the U.S. 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.