The Nando Times - Koreans call for investigation of US air attacks

By SANG-HUN CHOE

SEOUL, South Korea (December 29, 1999) - Saying they were survivors of U.S. Air Force attacks on civilian refugees during the Korean War, Koreans on Wednesday accused Washington of dragging its feet on investigating the alleged attacks.

"So many innocent people were killed by U.S. planes, and it's insincere of the U.S. government not to start an investigation immediately," said Um Han-won, 65.

Um says he lost his mother, three sisters and two brothers when U.S. planes dropped incendiary bombs on a cave filled with hundreds of terrified refugees in January 1951.

Korean witnesses say 300 people were trapped and suffocated. Those who escaped were strafed by the planes, they say.

The Associated Press, quoting declassified U.S. military documents and U.S. and South Korean witnesses, reported this week that American pilots sometimes attacked civilian-clad groups in South Korea on suspicion they harbored enemy infiltrators.

Large numbers of South Korean refugees were killed in some cases, witnesses said. U.S. pilots said they were strafing their targets at an airborne controller's instruction but they sometimes worried they were machine-gunning innocents.

In September, the AP cited U.S. veterans, Korean witnesses and declassified documents in reporting that U.S. warplanes and ground troops killed hundreds of South Korean refugees at No Gun Ri, South Korea, in late July 1950 as the retreating Americans struggled to defend South Korea against a North Korean invasion.

American ground commanders feared that enemy soldiers, disguised in the common white clothing of civilians, were mixing in South Korean refugee columns.

The U.S. and South Korean governments, which had previously dismissed the claim, immediately ordered investigations.

Since then, 37 other cases of alleged killings of civilian refugees at U.S. hands have surfaced.

Most of them related to air attacks. But Washington and Seoul have said they will decide whether to look into those cases only after their investigation into the No Gun Ri case is completed.

"Our priority is to concentrate on No Gun Ri," Chung Ki-chang, a Seoul official, said Wednesday.

Both the United States and South Korea hope to finish their investigations by mid-2000.

Survivors of other incidents said they were frustrated.

"I sent a petition to President Clinton and Defense Secretary (William) Cohen in October, but they have not even sent me a reply," said Hong Won-ki, 62, a retired newspaper executive, who says he lost his parents in a U.S. air attack in January 1951.

Hong sent another petition to Clinton last week, urging for a replay and investigation.

"We need to console those souls who still wander because the truth about their unjust death was not told," Hong said.

http://www.thestar.com/editorial/opinion/991229NEW02_OP-ASIA29.html

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