Protesters: Wartime control of ROK forces should stay with U.S.
Stars and Stripes August 13, 2006
SEOUL — Thousands of South Koreans gathered at Seoul Station on Friday to blast their president’s request for wartime control of his own military.
More than 3,000 people poured onto the sidewalks outside the station to listen to patriotic songs and harshly worded speeches by the Republic of Korea Sungwoo Association, led by former South Korean Air Force Chief of Staff Kim Sang-tae, and members of the National Movement Headquarters. At least 1,000 crowd members wore their former military uniforms and medals.
The message, blasted over giant loudspeakers and repeated by several of those making speeches, was simple: President Roh Moo-hyun should drop the request for independent wartime command of the South Korean military.
Under current agreements, U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. B.B. Bell would command all forces during the time of war on the peninsula. Roh’s administration asked for wartime command and the issue has been under study. In July, Bell told Stars and Stripes that officials were considering two separate commands instead of a Combined Forces Command. Under the new model, a restructured USFK would act in a support role to the South Korean military.
Rally leaders said Friday that if Roh continues with his demand to dismantle the CFC, the issue should be put to a national vote.
Volunteers distributed handouts at the rally that stated Roh should make a formal national apology to the South Korean people.
The people, the rally leaders contend, do not wish to lose the CFC or see a withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea.
The rally leaders also called on those in South Korea’s military to help “save our nation” by telling leaders that making serious adjustments to the alliance would be a mistake.
“This is not the right time” for South Korea to take independent control of its military, said S.K. Ai, who attended the rally with his daughter. “Maybe after 20 years.”
Ai said he joined U.S. Army’s 7th Infantry Division during the Korean War and took part in Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s Inchon landing. He said he’s since experienced more than a half-century of tension between the Koreas.
Like many of the attendees who talked to Stripes at the rally, Ai said he believes Roh’s request is part of a bigger Communist plan to get the U.S. military out of South Korea.
Won Kee-chol, 70, said that 36,000 Americans sacrificed their lives during the Korean War and he doesn’t want to see that effort wasted.
The U.S. military “should stay until unification of the Koreas under a flag of peace,” he said.
“If the U.S. troops withdraw from South Korea, we will be under the North’s control,” he said.
Earlier Friday, a small group of people supporting Roh’s plan clustered in front of the South Korean Ministry of National Defense.
About two dozen members of Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of Korea gathered to say that postponing an independent military during war would perpetuate the need for the U.S. military in South Korea.