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S. Korean activists protest alleged lewd behavior by soldiers on train

PYEONGTAEK, South Korea — Activists in Gwangju planned to rally Friday to protest Sunday’s incident in which three U.S. soldiers allegedly engaged in lewd behavior aboard a subway train.

The rally was set for 4 p.m. outside Gwangju Air Base, a South Korean installation housing a U.S. Army Patriot missile unit.

The soldiers — one of whom allegedly exposed himself in front of passengers while the other two made sexually suggestive motions — are in the missile unit.

The activists said Wednesday they reject an apology the U.S. military issued Monday and want the soldiers to be prosecuted.

They called the incident an affront to South Korean citizens and especially disrespectful to women, including one female passenger who Gwangju police have said is their main witness in the case.

“It is not sufficient to apologize to Gwangju citizens,” said Han Jung-ho, a member of a group that translates its name as Civil Network for Closing of the Patriot Missile Base.

Han said the group, formed in August 2004, is an alliance of 113 civic groups from Jeolla Province. It has been holding demonstrations outside the base every Friday opposing the Patriot unit’s presence in Gwangju. But Friday’s protest will target the public lewdness allegations, said Han, also vice chairman of the Korean Democratic Labor Party’s Gwangju chapter.

Gwangju police have said the incident involved three soldiers assigned to Battery B, 2nd Battalion, 1st Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade.

Police on Monday had said the three were a corporal and two privates first class. But the 8th U.S. Army said Wednesday one was not a corporal but a specialist.

Police were scheduled to question the three at 1 p.m. Thursday at a Korean National Police station in Gwangju, said Army Lt. Col. Thomas Budzyna, public affairs chief for 8th U.S. Army in Seoul. The soldiers have denied any wrongdoing, police have said.

The three, now in U.S. military custody, were to be accompanied by “SOFA representatives” — fellow soldiers trained in the terms of the status of forces agreement that governs U.S. military personnel in South Korea, Budzyna said.

“Because this is a civil matter, we are doing our best to respect the privacy of the soldiers while at the same time cooperating fully with the Korean National Police,” Budzyna said.

The alleged incident played out before about 10 passengers at around 6:05 p.m. Sunday, said police, who were phoned by passengers and took the three into custody. Police later released them to the U.S. military.

In a statement on Monday, USFK said it “deeply regrets yesterday’s … incident on the Kwangju Subway. We apologize for this offense to the community and we pledge that we will cooperate fully with Korean National Police to ensure a full investigation.”

Gwangju is 170 miles south of Seoul in South Jeolla Province in the peninsula’s southwest. It has a long-standing reputation for anti-U.S. sentiment stemming from the 1980 Gwangju uprising.

In May of that year, South Korean military forces crushed an uprising by students and other pro-democracy demonstrators agitating for a presidential election and an end to martial law. The ensuing bloodshed resulted in numerous deaths; the actual number still is in dispute.


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