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Anti-US fury vented on soldier

By Shane Green, Herald Correspondent in Tokyo and agencies
September 17 2002

Anti-United States sentiment has boiled over in South Korea, with a US serviceman being abducted in protest against the accidental death of two teenage girls run over by a US military convoy.

In the first case of abduction since US troops were stationed in South Korea after the Korean War, Private John Murphy was held for several hours by a mob at the weekend.

US commanders and diplomats in Seoul said Korean police allowed the mob to take the soldier to a stadium where a memorial demonstration was being held for the two 13-year-old girls, killed in June when they were crushed to death by a US armoured vehicle that was being driven along a narrow country road.

They said Private Murphy was photographed, videotaped and allegedly forced to make a public statement demanding that the US forces hand over to Korean authorities the soldiers responsible for the accident.

The accident, just north of Seoul, has prompted a wave of anti-US feeling in South Korea, where 37,000 US troops are stationed and whose presence is seen by some Koreans as an affront to national sovereignty.

Koreans have also been angered by the decision of US authorities to send the driver of the armoured vehicle and another soldier to a US court martial rather than the Korean courts. Both have been charged with negligent homicide.

The treatment of Private Murphy has prompted the US forces command and the US embassy in Seoul to lodge a protest with the Korean Government and police.

The incident happened when Private Murphy and two other soldiers were on a train returning to US Camp Red Cloud, near the demilitarised zone separating North and South Korea, when a group of demonstrators boarded the carriage.

A joint statement from US commanders and diplomats said Private Murphy refused to accept a flyer on the accident from the demonstrators. He was then allegedly punched in the face by a man believed to be Suh Kyong-won, a radical who was once jailed for going to communist North Korea without Seoul's permission. Mr Suh, a former legislator, is also a co-chairman of a committee focusing on the accident in which the girls died.

The US statement said the soldier was attacked by at least four demonstrators and that he struck Mr Suh to defend himself. Korean media reports claim the soldier hit Mr Suh first.

The soldiers got off the train but were followed by a "large number" of demonstrators, the US officials said. "According to the soldiers' initial statements, they were pulled, punched, kicked and spat upon by demonstrators while a crowd of some 200 demonstrators watched," the US statement said.

Korean police then allegedly allowed Private Murphy to be abducted while holding the two other US soldiers.

Private Murphy was taken to a hospital and forced to apologise to Mr Suh, who had sustained a black eye and, according to some reports, a broken nose.

The girls' deaths have fired strong protests against US forces, including the storming of a US base in Seoul in July in which three Americans were attacked.

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