US Army secretary visits No Gun RiBy KYONG-HWA SEOK
NO GUN RI, South Korea (January 10, 2000) - The head of the U.S. Army on Monday visited the South Korean hamlet where American soldiers allegedly shot hundreds of refugees during the first weeks of the Korean War. Army Secretary Louis Caldera promised a thorough investigation into the claims.
Caldera visited No Gun Ri as part of a U.S. government investigation into whether retreating U.S. soldiers machine-gunned civilians under a railroad tunnel.
"Where exactly were the soldiers?" Caldera asked during a briefing by a survivor in front of the railroad tunnel. "How many machine guns were there?"
"I don't know, but the bullets rained down from everywhere," replied the survivor, Chung Ku-ho, said through an interpreter. Chung, then 13, was one of several dozen villagers who survived the attack.
American soldiers, Chung said, herded hundreds of refugees into the tunnel in late July 1950 and shot them with machine guns. He said up to 400 people were killed.
Declassified U.S. military documents said American ground commanders feared that enemy soldiers, disguised in the common white clothing of civilians, were mixing in South Korean refugee columns.
After the visit to the tunnel, Caldera, accompanied by 18 other American officials and advisers, met a dozen other survivors of the alleged mass killing. It was Caldera's first visit to No Gun Ri.
"I want to assure you that the United States is committed to a thorough investigation in close cooperation with" South Korea authorities, Caldera told the survivors.
During Caldera's visit to the bridge, several Koreans raised a banner that read in English: "You must know what you did. You must repay. Wake up from your ignorance."
Earlier in Seoul, Caldera met South Korean Defense Minister Cho Sung-tae and his deputy, Park Young-ok, to discuss the investigation of the No Gun Ri incident.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Sunday, the Army secretary said the investigation of what happened at the South Korean village was making progress.
But he said the United States could not study "every firefight, every battle" of the 1950-52 Korean War, despite allegations that U.S. forces killed unarmed civilians in dozens of incidents.
Caldera said all loss of life was regrettable, but emphasized the need to establish whether civilians were killed intentionally.
In September, The Associated Press reported that hundreds of Korean civilians were killed at No Gun Ri by American soldiers who feared communist North Korean soldiers were infiltrating groups of refugees. The report cited dozens of villagers and U.S. veterans.
The United States and South Korea previously dismissed the claims, but opened investigations after the AP report was published.
Since then, South Koreans have come forward with more stories of alleged mass killings of civilians by U.S. troops. Historians say Korean forces on both sides of the conflict committed atrocities.
The United States led a 16-nation U.N. force in defense of South Korea against North Korea, which was backed by China and the Soviet Union. About 55,000 Americans were killed and more than 8,000 are still listed as missing.
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