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The World

Anti-Americanism Sweeps South Korea

The acquittals of two GIs in the death of a pair of schoolgirls have sparked protests. U.S. ambassador apologizes on Bush's behalf.

November 27, 2002|Barbara Demick | Times Staff Writer

He accused the military prosecutors in the courts-martial of being hesitant in presenting the charges and said because the two were tried separately, they could deflect blame to the other.

"For a terrible crime like this, somebody must be held responsible," Lee said. "Korea has a continental legal system which is somewhat different, and the Americans should respect the spirit of our system too."

The legacy of colonial domination by Japan and national pride have made Koreans especially sensitive to perceived affronts to their sovereignty. The Status of Forces agreement between the United States and South Korea was revised in 2001 to satisfy Korean demands for jurisdiction over cases in which U.S. soldiers were accused of "heinous" crimes, such as murder and rape.

But that doesn't apply to cases in which the alleged crimes are committed when soldiers are on official duty -- as was the case when the girls were crushed to death.

The extent of the anti-American sentiments stirred by the case was evident over the weekend at the entrance to a restaurant in downtown Seoul, which posted signs saying, "Not Welcome. The Americans."

Other establishments near university campuses were reported to be similarly barring Americans.

"I thought about putting up a sign reading, 'Yankee, Go Home,' but that seemed too harsh," said Lee Chang Yong, 41, who had put up the "Not Welcome" sign. Lee said he appreciates the presence of U.S. troops in defending South Korea but believes that they behave arrogantly without respect for Korean culture.

"There are cultural things in Korea. When your son does something wrong, you visit the neighbor's house and apologize, even though it might not be your fault," Lee said. "In this case, it was the same. We expected something more than perfunctory diplomatic regrets. If they apologized properly, it would have been more important than the verdict."

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