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SEOUL — South Korean police arrested a cab driver and two accomplices on Thursday on suspicion of raping and killing three female passengers earlier in the month.

Police said the driver picked up two women, ages 24 and 25, in the Hongdae area of Seoul at 2 a.m. on Aug. 18. The other two men followed the taxi in a rented car to a deserted area on the outskirts of the city, and all three raped and suffocated the women, then dumped them into the Han River, police said.

Their bodies were found on Aug. 23 and Aug. 24.

One of the women called police on her cell phone after being kidnapped, but the call was disconnected.

Hongdae, an area of bars and restaurants near several universities, has been off-limits at night to the U.S. military community since February, because a U.S. soldier raped a 67-year-old woman there.

The taxi driver picked up another woman, 27, near Gangnam Station on Aug. 20, and the three men raped and suffocated her near Paldang Dam, according to the police.

Police said the men, all in their 30s, wanted to steal 30 million won (about $32,000) to open a restaurant. They stole only 1 million won (about $1,100) from one of their first victims, and 37,000 won (about $40) from the woman Aug. 20.

U.S. Forces Korea officials said troops should travel with buddies off-base, but they could not provide anyone Friday to speak on safety measures for female taxi passengers because of the two-week Ulchi Focus Lens exercise.

South Korean police said Friday that females should not ride in a taxi with a passenger they don’t know because that person could be conspiring with a driver to attack them. But there’s no way for passengers to know if a driver will attack them, they said.

South Korean police said foreigners are less likely than South Koreans to be attacked because of the language barrier, which makes it harder for a driver to give them orders. Drivers are often attacked by passengers, and are not allowed to wear ties because they could be strangled with their own tie by a back-seat passenger, police said.

Police also said they cannot release the name of the taxi company the men worked for because of privacy concerns.

Master Sgt. Donovan Potter, spokesman for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, said drivers with on-base contracted taxis have undergone background and security checks.

“Customer safety is paramount for AAFES in the taxi business and all other services we offer,” he said.

Only 820 of Seoul’s 95,000 registered taxi drivers are women, according to the city’s Taxi and Logistics Division. Of those, 130 have applied for training under the Brand Call Taxi program, which will let women in Seoul call and request a woman taxi driver at night. That service is scheduled to begin in September.

U.S. troops have a midnight-to-5 a.m. curfew Sunday through Thursdays, and a 1 a.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew on Fridays and Saturdays.

Before holidays, U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. B.B. Bell directs supervisors to conduct one-on-one counseling with all troops to stress safety requirements.

Taxi safety tips

Be aware of your surroundings, and make eye contact.

Never ride in the front seat of a taxi.

Never get into the back seat if the door handles are missing or don’t work.

If men are inside a taxi that pulls up, wait for the next one.

Don’t ride with strangers.

Have your friends write down the license plate number of your taxi as you leave.

When you get into a taxi, call your family and tell them your taxi’s license plate number.

Sources: Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center, U.S. State Department

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