SEOUL — The U.S. Embassy issued a warning Wednesday to American citizens in South Korea to take precautions in large crowds, and the 37,000 U.S. troops here were put under an extended curfew in the wake of two weekend attacks on military personnel.
The most serious of the incidents occurred Sunday night when one of the U.S. Army's senior press officers, Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, was punched and grazed with a knife in an underpass near the Seoul headquarters of the American forces.
"There were three Korean males who were yelling some very disparaging remarks" about U.S. troops, Boylan said Wednesday in a telephone interview. He said the men then attacked him from behind and slammed him against a wall, while one pulled out a knife. "He lunged at me. I was able to twist away. If I hadn't twisted away, the knife would have gone into me."
Boylan, 40, had stayed late in his office to finish a report about an attack the night before. In that incident, a group of U.S. soldiers said it was set upon by South Koreans whose car had rear-ended the soldiers' vehicle.
The incidents came during a bout of anti-Americanism inspired by the acquittal last month of two U.S. soldiers who were court-martialed on charges of negligent homicide in the deaths of two South Korean girls run over by a mine-clearing vehicle.
In a country normally considered one of the United States' closest allies, an estimated 100,000 people participated in anti-American demonstrations Saturday. Grievances against the U.S. range from its policies on Iraq and North Korea to the conduct of the troops stationed here.
Today's presidential election also has brought crowds into the streets for rallies.
In a statement Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy reported other "scattered incidents of violence and harassment directed against Americans, including U.S. military personnel and other foreigners." The extended curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. is in effect until next week to "minimize unnecessary exposure" of U.S. troops and their families in South Korea.
Boylan said it hadn't been determined whether the attack on him was inspired by anti-American sentiments or was an attempted mugging.
In September, three U.S. soldiers were assaulted in the subway and one was briefly abducted by South Korean students on their way to an anti-American demonstration.