Attack on Army officer came amid rising anti-U.S. sentiment in S. Korea
December 18, 2002
SEOUL — When three South Korean males attacked a U.S. Army officer at knifepoint this weekend, it was only the latest in a series of anti-American events that have plagued the U.S. military in South Korea for the past month.
The anti-American sentiment surged after the November acquittals of two U.S. soldiers whose armored vehicle struck and killed two South Korean schoolgirls June 13.
Lt. Col. Steven Boylan suffered only minor injuries in the knife attack, which occurred just outside the Yongsan Garrison installation in Seoul.
Boylan is the chief spokesman for 8th U.S. Army, based at Yongsan. He was wearing civilian clothes — blue jeans and a casual jacket — when he was attacked around 8:40 p.m. on Sunday.
Before attacking Boylan, his assailants cursed at him in English, making profane references to him as a “GI” and saying “go home.”
An outcry over the case — and the resulting demand for revising the status of forces agreement between the United States and South Korea — has made the U.S. military presence here an issue in the presidential campaign that climaxes Thursday when voters go to the polls.
The two soldiers in the fatal accident case, Sgt. Fernando Nino and Sgt. Mark Walker, were tried on negligent homicide charges in separate U.S. military courts-martial.
Some South Koreans have expressed a sense of wounded national pride over the acquittals and have accused the United States of looking down on South Korea and its people.
They chafe at the SOFA provisions that allowed the Army to try Nino and Walker instead of handing them over for trial in a South Korean court.
“American people think Korea baby,” said Seoul taxi driver Yi Yong-buk, 60. “Korean people think, ‘We not baby.’”
“I think the law was made like that because we’re a weaker country than the U.S.,” said Song Sung-yong, 30, referring to the SOFA.
Song is manager of Ji Won, a computer store in Seoul’s Yongsan electronics district.
Both leading presidential candidates have made campaign promises that if elected, they’d push to revise SOFA, the legal code that spells out ground rules for U.S. servicemembers in South Korea.
The U.S. Embassy in Seoul and U.S. Forces Korea declined to comment on how the acquittals have figured in the South Korean presidential campaign.
On Dec. 11, South Korean and American officials agreed to form a joint task force to explore improving the SOFA.
Many South Koreans want it revised to give South Korean courts jurisdiction in all cases involving U.S. servicemembers.
“Primarily, they want the SOFA revised and they want the two soldiers, Walker and Nino, to be tried again in a Korean court,” said Army Maj. Holly Pierce, a spokeswoman for 8th U.S. Army in Seoul.
“And, until Friday night, when President Bush did apologize, they were calling for a personal apology from President Bush,” Pierce said.
The night before the knifepoint attack on the U.S. Army officer, tens of thousands of South Koreans turned out in Seoul’s central business district for a candlelight demonstration over the acquittals.
It coincided with similar demonstrations in other South Korean cities. In the past six months, South Korean protesters have staged 318 demonstrations at U.S. military installations around the peninsula, according to the 8th U.S. Army in Seoul.
That figure does not include the quiet, day-to-day protests by a handful of demonstrators who stand outside installations bearing placards.
“We’ve seen where the protestors have grown violent and either thrown Molotov cocktails or bottles of red paint,” Pierce said. In other instances, some protesters have gained entry to installations.
Last weekend, two South Korean males in their 20s got into the Army’s Camp Henry in Taegu, climbed a 300-foot water tower and displayed protest banners for two hours before South Korean authorities took them into custody.
Authorities say they’re investigating how the two got on the post.