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3 GIs Involved in Brawl With South Koreans

Asia: U.S. military says soldiers were attacked by protesters. But witnesses reportedly claim that one of the Americans started the fight.


SEOUL — Three U.S. soldiers were assaulted on a Seoul subway over the weekend, and one was briefly abducted by South Korean university students on their way to an anti-American demonstration, the U.S. military reported Sunday.

The U.S. Embassy here lodged an immediate protest with the South Korean government over the incident and the way it was handled by local police.

There were sharply conflicting versions of who was at fault in what apparently started as a brawl on the subway.

In an unusually angry statement, the U.S. military said the three soldiers were accosted by a large group of students and political activists who were on their way to a demonstration Saturday night at Seoul's Kyunghee University. The activists allegedly tried to hand the soldiers a leaflet about the demonstration, which concerned two 14-year-old girls killed in an accident involving a U.S. military vehicle. When the soldiers refused to take the Korean-language leaflet, the statement said, the crowd became angry and a scuffle broke out.

The soldiers then got off the subway to wait for a later train. At that point, the military said, they were surrounded by demonstrators who "pulled, punched, kicked and spat" on them as about 200 people looked on. Two of the soldiers were turned over to South Korean police, but a third--identified as Pvt. John Murphy--was dragged to the demonstration.

"The demonstrators allegedly abducted Murphy and took him against his will to the university's stadium where a memorial demonstration was being held for the two teenaged girls," the U.S. forces statement said. "The captors allegedly forced Murphy to watch the demonstration. During this time he was photographed, videotaped and allegedly forced to make a public statement about the incident on the train and in support of the demonstrators."

Murphy was then taken to the university hospital and forced to apologize to a man, identified as political activist and former legislator Suh Kyong Won, 65, who had sustained a black eye and, according to some reports, a broken nose during the subway scuffle. Murphy was later charged by local police with assault, although according to the U.S. military, he had been attacked by Suh and had acted in self-defense. Murphy apparently was held for two hours.

"No charges have apparently been brought against the Korean participants in this incident, but it is expected that charges of restraint against one's will and aggravated assault will be filed," the U.S. military statement said.

U.S. Army spokesman Stephen Oertwig added: "It is very unsettling that this sort of thing could happen. The soldiers were scared for their lives." He said the soldiers, newly arrived in South Korea, were on their way back to their base after an early dinner in Seoul and had followed all procedures correctly.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency, however, quoted witnesses as saying that Murphy had started swearing and had punched Suh in the face in anger over the leaflets.

"He hit me with the fist when I protested about his swearing," Suh was quoted as saying from his hospital bed.

Besides Murphy, the other soldiers were identified as Pvts. Eric Owens and Shane Tucker. Their ages and hometowns were not given. All three are from the 2nd Infantry Division and are stationed at Camp Red Cloud, near the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea. Other soldiers from the 2nd Infantry Division were involved in the June 13 accident in which the two teenagers were crushed to death by an armored bridge carrier that was being driven along a narrow road.

The accident has fueled a simmering resentment of the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, whose presence are seen by some South Koreans as an affront to national sovereignty. Although two soldiers have been charged with negligent homicide and are facing court-martial, many South Koreans say they should have been handed over to local courts.

"Extremely unwise is the U.S. military that keeps turning a deaf ear to the rising voices of anger from Koreans.... Koreans are struggling to defend their dignity and values against the double standards used by their supposedly trusted benefactors," an editorial in the Korea Herald, a moderate English-language daily, said last month.

At a recent lunch with foreign journalists, South Korean President Kim Dae Jung said: "It worries me that there is a growing trend toward anti-Americanism.... But no one wants to sever ties with Washington. The U.S. is our most important ally and plays an essential part in promoting peace and stability on the Korean peninsula."

The demonstration at Kyunghee University was organized by Hanchongryon, a leftist student organization. Members of the group ransacked the office of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce here in February to protest a visit to South Korea by President Bush.

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