Protest group voluntarily disbands after two years of demonstrating
SEOUL — A coalition formed by some 150 South Korean civic groups after the 2002 incident in which two schoolgirls were run over by a U.S. Army truck will voluntarily disband next month, organizers announced Thursday.
On June 12, the Pan-Korean Committee for Two Girls Killed by a U.S. Army Armored Vehicle will hold its final public event, the coalition said in a statement released on various Web pages.
“We have decided our coalition will come to an end on the 12th of next month, which marks the second anniversary of the girls’ deaths,” the statement read.
The committee headed up months of sometimes-violent protests after the incident, in which 13-year-olds Shim Mi-sun and Shin Hyo-soon were struck and killed by the operators of an M60 armored vehicle rounding an uphill curve in a U.S. convoy.
Over six months of turmoil, activists occasionally threw Molotov cocktails at U.S. bases, clashed with riot and military police at base gates, and held massive rallies. In November 2002, Sgt. Fernando Nino, commander of the vehicle that crushed the girls, and Sgt. Mark Walker, the driver, were acquitted of negligent homicide in U.S. military court, further inflaming the protests.
The court found that Walker could not see the right side of the roadway because of a blind spot and heavy radio traffic prevented him from hearing warnings about the girls in time to change course.
But some within the committee criticized other protest groups for seizing on the incident to recruit members for their own, unrelated causes.
When a downtown Seoul monument to the two girls was vandalized a year after the incident, one South Korean civic group issued a letter claiming responsibility on the grounds that some members of the Pan-Korean Committee were using the girls’ memory as “meat” to attract “customers.”
U.S. military officials say the 2002 tragedy led to stepped-up safety measures for its troops while training near civilian areas. 2nd Infantry Division leaders now regularly hold community meetings before large exercises, giving out information on road closures and movement of military vehicles.
And, as a result of a joint U.S.-South Korean task force formed after the two girls’ deaths, the military promised to speed payments to victims of accidents involving U.S. forces. The incident also spurred creation of a Good Neighbor program by Gen. Leon LaPorte, the U.S. Forces Korea commander, who said in a February Internet roundtable that the deaths still weigh heavily on him.
Local South Korean officials pledged to widen roads and put up clearer signage where U.S. troops train. In fact, Gyeonggi Province officials completed in April a widening project at the very spot where the accident occurred.
That project is part of a larger, $94 million plan to improve more than 100 miles of roads in the area, with special emphasis on widening roads used by 2nd ID vehicles, provincial officials have said.