SEOUL — South Korea is urging the U.S. military to better control its servicemembers after several recent allegations of misbehavior — including an attempted taxi theft and the alleged harassment of female employees at a water park — that have received national attention here.
South Korean officials “strongly” requested that U.S. Forces Korea cooperate with efforts by Korean authorities to prevent crime and quickly address any crimes that occur, according to a statement by the Foreign Ministry issued after a meeting Wednesday of the Joint SOFA Committee. The committee handles issues related to U.S. Forces Korea Status of Forces agreement governing troops and installations.
The ministry said it told the U.S. representatives that although the number of cases involving U.S. military is declining, public opinion against USFK could worsen because of recent alleged misbehavior.
In response, the U.S. promised to work to prevent similar incidents, to strengthen its disciplinary measures and to better educate servicemembers about South Korean laws and culture, the ministry statement said.
USFK issued a statement to Stars and Stripes saying any type of misconduct by USFK servicemembers ”is unacceptable.” It said it takes all cases seriously and cooperates with South Korean authorities in accordance with the SOFA.
“Even the very small percentage of the U.S. military who do not obey host nation laws and customs are too much,” the USFK statement said. “We will continue our efforts to prevent and mitigate potential incidents.”
Three incidents last month focused attention on the issue.
On May 4, Spc. Carl A. Lissone died in Pyeongtaek from a brain hemorrhage after a street fight outside a Seoul nightclub. The incident is still under investigation, but South Korean police say other soldiers were involved.
On May 31, South Korean police say a sergeant with the 2nd Infantry Division’s 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade stole a taxi in Seoul, drove the car about three miles, crashed into a stopped car and then fought with a police officer before he was subdued. Authorities say the sergeant had a blood alcohol level of 0.158 percent at the time of his arrest and said he had little memory of the incident.
On the same day, two 2ID soldiers were accused of inappropriately touching two female employees at the Everland theme park’s Caribbean Bay water park.
South Korean police said the two soldiers, along with a third 2ID soldier, were causing a disturbance. The soldiers, identified as a private, private 1st class and a specialist with the 210th Field Artillery Brigade, allegedly punched a male employee in the face and kicked him, then refused to cooperate with police, punching one officer and spitting in his face.
Additional details of that case were disclosed this week.
While one of the soldiers said a female employee misinterpreted his comments and gestures as being obscene, South Korean police said that closed-circuit footage proves many of the allegations against the men and that they could face charges, including sexual harassment, assault and obstructing police carrying out their duties.
The soldiers told South Korean police during questioning last week that they were drunk and remember little of what happened at the park, authorities said. They told police that besides drinking beer at Caribbean Bay, they and a fourth soldier drank a mixture of soju — a potent and popular Korean liquor — and beer while riding a bus to the park, according to the Yongin Dongbu Police chief of criminal affairs.
The bus was transporting the soldiers as part of a military-affiliated trip to boost the morale of single soldiers, the police official said. 2ID would not comment on the drinking allegations because the incident is still under investigation.
2ID commander Maj. Gen. Thomas Vandal said in a statement last week that 2ID is cooperating fully with South Korean police to make sure those “found at fault face swift and firm consequences.”
“I fully support the Korean prosecution of soldiers found to have violated Korean law, and I will not tolerate immature and thoughtless behavior,” he said, adding in reference to the alleged taxi theft and misbehavior at Everland: “I will not allow two careless acts of indiscipline to tarnish 2ID readiness and our strong relationship with our Korean neighbors.”
The 2ID press release said the U.S. troops are subject to both South Korean law and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.