S. Korea protests prompt modified curfew
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — U.S. Forces Korea and South Korean police are warning Americans to stay away from a series of protests this weekend commemorating the second anniversary of the accident that killed two young South Korean girls near a U.S. training range.
Organizers of the Pan-Korean Committee for Two Girls Killed by a U.S. Army Armored Vehicle said the main gathering will be at 7 p.m. Saturday in front of the U.S. Embassy in Gwanghwamun.
On Thursday, U.S. officials announced a modified curfew for servicemembers on the peninsula. From Friday to Sunday, curfew will be 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., officials said. Normally, the curfew is 1 a.m. on weekends.
Officials also warned servicemembers and civilians to avoid areas where demonstrations were likely to take place.
Kim Dae, a spokesman for the group, said organizers expect more than 10,000 participants at what is being dubbed “The People’s Petition.” The night will begin with a candlelight vigil to remember Shim Mi-sun and Shin Hyo-soon, two 13-year-olds struck and killed by the operators of an M60 armored vehicle in June 2002.
Organizers say the secondary focus of Saturday’s gathering will be to protest the planned dispatch of South Korean troops to Iraq. The protest will include street performers, music and dances, Kim said.
Last month, a Web site organized by the Pan-Korea Committee — a group of 150 South Korean civic groups formed after the 2002 incident — said Saturday’s event would be the last of its kind and that the group would voluntarily disband.
But Thursday, Kim told Stars and Stripes he planned to continue a small weekly protest Thursdays in front of the embassy. Kim also said he plans to hold a large-scale rally again next year on the third anniversary.
According to a Korean National Police intelligence official, police know of no large-scale demonstrations planned in front of U.S. bases this weekend.
However, the official said, police advise Americans to take “extra caution” this weekend, since it is an “emotional time” that reflects a still-sensitive issue.
The 2002 incident spurred sometimes-violent protests. 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 a blind spot prevented Walker from seeing the roadway’s right side, where the girls were walking, and that heavy radio traffic prevented him from hearing warnings about the girls in time to change course.
U.S. military officials say the 2002 tragedy led to stepped-up safety measures for its troops while training near civilian areas. Second 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, 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 April, Gyeonggi Province officials completed a widening project at the 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.