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A small group of protesters gathers before a beach assault exercise on Malipo Beach, South Korea, Thursday.
A small group of protesters gathers before a beach assault exercise on Malipo Beach, South Korea, Thursday. (T.D. Flack / S&S)

SEOUL — South Korean police will question a group of protesters who interrupted a South Korean-U.S. Marine beach landing exercise last week, officials confirmed Monday.

South Korean military officials criticized protesters who caused minor interruptions to the exercise when they raced onto the public beach on March 30.

“The demonstrators, by illegally intruding (on) the training ground,” put themselves and Marines at risk, according to a Ministry of National Defense news release sent late Monday afternoon.

About 25 protesters staged themselves on Malipo Beach as the first wave of 12 South Korean and U.S. amphibious assault vehicles neared the shore. After the vehicles stopped, members of the Pan National Unification Association surrounded one U.S. vehicle and began chanting anti-U.S. military slogans. They also prevented one South Korean tank from off-loading by standing in front of the ramp of the U.S. Navy landing craft it was on and pulled on one U.S. Marine’s backpack as he tried to move inland.

The landing was part of Reception, Staging, Onward Movement and Integration — the Combined Forces Command’s largest annual training exercise, during which forces work on their ability to receive and integrate forces from outside the country.

According to the MND release, RSOI “is not an exercise to invade North Korea, as the demonstrators claim.”

Sixteen of the 25 protesters would be questioned for their role in the “aggravated interference of the execution of official duties,” said Seosan police senior detective Seo Jun-bae.

Seo said police have started contacting five of the 16 sought for questioning.

If those notified fail to show up as directed, Seo said, police will issue arrest warrants.

Seosan police officials said last week they were surprised by the protest because no demonstration permit had been filed as required by South Korean law.

But Choi Bong-yeol of the Pan National Unification Association said Monday that his organization conducted a “press conference,” not a demonstration, during the exercise, so a permit wasn’t required.

Choi said he believes the beach landing is a threat to peace on the Korean peninsula.

U.S. Forces Korea officials were aware of the investigation but as of Monday afternoon had not been asked to provide statements about the incident.

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