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Politic-Economic-Society-Tech

2 U.S. Soldiers Charged in S. Korea

Two American soldiers have been charged with negligent homicide for hitting two South Korean girls with their armored vehicle, the U.S. military said, reversing an earlier decision not to prosecute the men.

The deaths had touched off near-daily anti-U.S. protests. South Korean activists demanded an apology and a South Korean trial of the two U.S. soldiers.

Sgt. Mark Walker and Sgt. Fernando Nino, both from the Army's 2nd Infantry Division, north of Seoul, were accused of violating the Pentagon's Uniform Code of Military Justice, the U.S. military said in a press release.

The men's armored bridge carrier hit the 14-year-old girls as they were walking along a public road on June 13 in Yangju near the border with North Korea. The vehicle was taking part in a training mission.

The move was a reversal of an earlier U.S. decision not to court-martial the two soldiers. Under an international agreement, South Korea cannot punish U.S. soldiers involved in accidents while on duty.

There was no clear U.S. explanation about the change in its position. Lee Ferguson, a spokeswoman for the U.S. military command, said only that ``the charge came after the internal U.S. Army investigation.''

The trial is expected to take place at a U.S. military court in South Korea, said Lee Ferguson, spokeswoman for the U.S. military. If convicted, the soldiers could face up to six years in prison.

On Thursday, 400 people staged a protest in front of the 2nd U.S. Infantry Division headquarters, shouting for an end to the U.S. military presence in South Korea. On Friday, a dozen activists staged a similar protest in front of the U.S. military command in Seoul.

Also Friday, a South Korean court issued an arrest warrant for a university student who tore down a wire fence of the 2nd U.S. Infantry Division's headquarters last month during an anti-U.S. demonstration.

U.S. military officials said the armored vehicle struck the girls as it was rounding a curve and as a convoy of Bradley fighting vehicles was approaching in the opposite direction.

Walker, who was driving the armored vehicle, had testified that he was on the radio and could not hear a warning from Nino, who was the vehicle's commander, according to South Korean police.

``Both are charged with the deaths of the two girls by negligently failing to ensure the safe operation of the vehicle,'' the U.S. military said without elaborating.

It did not give the hometowns of the two soldiers.

Occasional accidents and crimes have prompted demands from civic groups to give South Korea more legal power in cases involving American troops. They have also prompted a small number of activists to demand withdrawal of the U.S. troops.

About 37,000 U.S. soldiers are stationed in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War.

sourc
e: The Associated Press, Fri 5 Jul 2002

 


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