S. Korean woman to appear in court on arson charge in Yongsan fire
May 15, 2006
SEOUL — The South Korean woman charged with starting a major fire on a U.S. military compound will make her first court appearance this week, according to the Seoul prosecutor in charge of the case.
Kweon Jung-ja, 57, has been in custody since the March 16 blaze, when she was found at the scene claiming to have started the fire with a cigarette lighter. The fire swept through two buildings on Yongsan Garrison and a third on an adjacent military base. Three South Korean workers were hospitalized with severe burns.
Kweon faces a charge of arson and of trespassing on government property. The trespassing charge is more serious in South Korea than trespassing on private property, according to Park Gyu-taek, the prosecutor handling the case.
Kweon has had a mental evaluation while in custody, and though she has been diagnosed with mental problems, Park said, he believes her competent to stand trial. She is set to be in Seoul West District Court at 10 a.m. Thursday, he said.
Park also said he believes her confession matches evidence found at the fire scene. In addition to her statements the night of the fire, Kweon gave a statement to police on April 7.
She told South Korean police she went through an unlocked gate onto a U.S. military compound, which houses the Korean Service Corps, sometime before the early morning fire, South Korean police have said. She entered an open-air carpentry area on the compound, found work gloves on a pile of lumber and lit them with a cigarette lighter, police said.
South Korean police have jurisdiction in the investigation, though they have been working with U.S. military police and fire officials. The South Korean police have turned over their files to the U.S. authorities. Those reports are being translated and reviewed, said a U.S. Forces Korea spokesman.
Three Korean Service Corps workers were sleeping in the building that night and suffered burns and respiratory damage. One man, Lee Byeok-woo, remains in an intensive care unit.