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Some 200,000 people demonstrated June 13 in Seoul and 60 other South Korean cities against the occupation of their country by U.S. troops for the last 50 years. The date was the first anniversary of the death of two 13-year-old Korean girls who were killed on a country lane when a U.S. armored vehicle ran over them during military exercises last year.
Anger over the death of the girls, Shim Mi-son and Shin Hyo-sun, grew last November when a military court acquitted the U.S. sergeants driving the vehicle of negligent homicide. To most Koreans, the acquittal added insult to a grave injury.
U.S. troops entered Korea in large numbers at the beginning of the 1950- 1953 Korean War, in which millions of Koreans died, along with over 50,000 U.S. troops. The U.S. forces have remained since. Some 37,000 U.S. troops are still in South Korea.
Even Koreans who don't oppose the U.S. presence resent the privileged, colonial-type position of the U.S. troops conferred by the Status of Forces Agreement. For example, U.S. troops who commit crimes are tried in U.S. courts.
The largest of the June 13 demonstrations was in Seoul, where 30,000 came out against the U.S. military presence, according to organizers. Many held candles as they gathered at a plaza near the U.S. Embassy. They chanted, "Punish the murderous GIs!" and "Withdraw U.S. troops!"
Hundreds of demonstrators, apparently students, some wearing masks and carrying plastic poles, charged toward the embassy. At the same time, thousands of other demonstrators set fire to paper U.S. flags. Riot police sprayed fire extinguishers at the protesters.
The night before, student activists had climbed over the wall of the Yongsan Garrison in Seoul, the main U.S. military base in South Korea. They demanded the withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea and denounced the U.S. soldiers' crimes.
Demonstrators held smaller candlelight vigils in other major South Korean cities. The protesters are demanding an apology from U.S. President George W. Bush for the killing of the girls and a revision of the Status of Forces Agreement.
Reflecting the seriousness with which the U.S. authorities take the growing protests, the commander of the U.S. forces, Gen. Leon J. LaPorte, has issued a public apology and even organized a memorial with U.S. soldiers participating. But U.S. officials say there will be no immediate revision of the agreement, and Bush himself has not apologized.
U.S. WAR THREATS INCREASE
At the beginning of June, the Pentagon said the U.S. would move its troops south, away from the Demilitarized Zone-the border area with North Korea-and would also leave the Yongsan Garrison base in Seoul, where there are frequent confrontations with Koreans living around the base.
This move away from the border, while it appears peaceful in nature, in reality makes U.S. aggression in the form of an air or missile strike even more likely. The government of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) has made it clear it would consider such an attack--as well as attempts to blockade the country--an act of war and would respond.
If U.S. troops were to remain in the DMZ, any response by the DPRK to a U.S. air strike could immediately lead to U.S. casualties. Koreans on both sides of the border believe that under those conditions, Washington would be less likely to start a conflict.
That's why on both sides of the border Koreans consider the announced U.S. troop moves away from the DMZ as a danger to people all over the peninsula. They know that Washington is considering strikes at alleged DPRK nuclear facilities. And they have just observed the furious and unjustified U.S. assault on Iraq.
Three years ago the first inter-Korean summit took place with a meeting between DPRK leader Kim Jong-Il and then-South Korean President Kim Dae- jung, who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for this event. Increased trade and discussions have followed.
Bush's declaration that the DPRK was part of an "axis of evil" directly challenged the attempt by the South Korean government to negotiate with the North and finally end the state of war on the peninsula. Since then, popular sentiment in South Korea opposing the U.S. occupation has grown tremendously, joining the already massive anti-U.S. sentiment in the North.
Copyright Workers World 2003. For fair use only/ pour usage équitable seulement .