South Korean woman charged with arson in Yongsan fire
SEOUL — A South Korean woman has been formally charged with arson and trespassing in connection with a major fire last month at Yongsan Garrison and an adjacent military base, according to a South Korean prosecutor.
Kweon Jung-ja told police she started the fire; she was charged April 21, according to prosecutor Park Gyu-taek of Seoul’s West Prosecutor Office.
Park said he would ask for a five-year prison sentence, two more years than the usual punishment for arson, because three men were “badly injured” in the March 16 fire.
Three Korean Service Corps workers were sleeping in the building that night and suffered burns and respiratory damage. They all remained hospitalized as of Monday afternoon, according to their union president.
Kweon, 57, allegedly told police she entered the Korean Service Corps compound, next to Yongsan Garrison, in the early morning of March 16 after finding an open gate. She said she used a cigarette lighter to ignite workers’ gloves.
Kweon also has had a police-ordered mental evaluation. She has been in custody since the day of the fire.
The Korean National Police has forwarded its report to U.S. military officials who are reviewing the findings, according to U.S. Forces Korea spokesman David Oten.
The Korean police are the lead investigators in the case, although U.S. military police and fire officials also are looking into the cause of the fire.
No court date has been set for Kweon’s case, according to Seoul’s West District Court.
The fire was the biggest to hit Yongsan in decades. It destroyed two Directorate of Public Works buildings in addition to the service corps office. The fire drew nearly 200 firefighters and took more than three hours to bring under control.