Korean investigators determine U.S. troops killed Korean civilians

SEOUL, South Korea - South Korean investigators, for the first time, have determined that U.S. troops killed a large number of refugees at the hamlet of No Gun Ri during the early days of the Korean War.

A one-page government report on the No Gun Ri probe, submitted by South Korea's Defense Ministry to the National Assembly on June 22, said a list of at least 175 victims has been compiled based on information provided by relatives.

Investigators, the report said, ''have confirmed the existence of the incident and the general outline of events that led to the incident.''

The summary said investigators would now try to determine the exact motives of GIs in opening fire on the refugees, what chain of command gave open-fire orders and ''where the responsibility lies.''

''This is a tragic calamity that took place during the early days of ... the Korean War,'' the ministry report said. The document, part of a larger report on domestic issues, was distributed only to lawmakers in June and later made public.

Both the Pentagon and South Korea opened inquiries last year after The Associated Press quoted U.S. veterans and South Korean survivors as saying American GIs killed civilians sheltering under the railroad viaduct at No Gun Ri on July 26-28, 1950. Ex-GIs spoke of 100, 200 or simply hundreds dead. The South Koreans say up to 300 were killed.

The Defense Ministry report said South Korean investigators have reviewed and analyzed 690 crucial documents, traced the U.S. military maneuvers at the time, and completed interviewing 140 survivors, relatives and villagers. The Pentagon, which is expected to issue a report this fall, was interviewing 120 veterans, the report said.

The report was the first official determination about the killings at No Gun Ri.

In 1997, the South Korean government rejected compensation claims by survivors saying too much time had passed since the incident. The government took no official position then regarding the claims and did not launch any investigation at the time.

AP also obtained an internal document that South Korean investigators prepared for Defense Minister Cho Sung-tae in March.

''It is difficult to justify the indiscriminate shootings at the noncombatants under the twin railroad underpasses,'' the document said in a section entitled ''tentative assessments.''

The nine-page document acknowledged that GIs needed to control refugee throngs to clear the roads for retreating American troops and prevent possible infiltration by enemy soldiers disguised as refugees. But it accused the GIs of using ''excessive control'' of refugees, regarding them as guerrillas.

''Many months have passed since and new materials have become available. The content of the document should never be considered the ministry's official positions,'' Capt. Shin Han-woo, a spokesman of Seoul's Defense Ministry, told The AP.

''We have no intention to draw or publish tentative conclusions before we reach our final decisions on what happened there 50 years ago.''

According to the internal document, Korean investigators believed their Pentagon counterparts were interested in finding out whether South Korean police were at the scene at No Gun Ri. The document said the police were evacuated days before the incident on orders from the U.S. military.

South Korean investigators also believed U.S. investigators were trying to establish that the aerial attack was not intentional but a mistake by pilots who mistook the refugee column for enemy troops.

In response, U.S. Army Spokesman Maj. Tom Collins told AP, ''we are continuing to conduct a comprehensive review of the facts and it is premature to discuss our findings until the review is complete.''

In late July, experts removed bullets and fragments from a concrete wall of the railroad tunnel where refugees sheltered at No Gun Ri. The Defense Ministry told survivors that 20 bullets were taken out and examinations were still going on.


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