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Heat's on U.S. military in Korea, too

American soldier

Critics protest crimes by soldiers

Sohn Jie-Ae

October 30, 1995
Web posted at: 3:50 p.m. EST (2050 GMT)

From Seoul Correspondent Sohn Jie-Ae

SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- American soldiers play a crucial role in preserving the fragile peace and stability on the Korean peninsula (595K QuickTime movie). But recently, the soldiers themselves have become the focus of controversy in South Korea.

protestors

A series of highly publicized cases against U.S. soldiers, including accusations of sexual harassment and assault, have brought strong protests, with demonstrators marching through downtown Seoul to demand a U.S. apology.

Women's groups and others say that crimes committed by U.S. forces in South Korea are on the rise. They also claim South Korean authorities are doing nothing.

U.S. officials tell a different story. "The fact is that the number of serious crimes or those of particular interest is very small," said Jim Coles, a public affairs officer for U.S. Forces in Korea. "The South Korean government has always assumed 100 percent jurisdiction and in those cases have nearly a 100 percent conviction rate."

signs against marines

The criticism increased after U.S. soldiers were arrested in Okinawa for raping a Japanese girl. Public outcry in the street and in the South Korean media has been so strong that Seoul is in the process of trying to renegotiate the Status of Forces agreement between the two governments. South Korea seeks increased jurisdiction over American forces and a bigger voice in issues such as labor negotiations on the bases.

"We don't like to see this sort of phenomena impede the cooperative and alliance relations between our two countries," said South Korean Foreign Minister Gong Ro-myung. "That is why we would like to see some improvement."

The U.S. military has been serving the same basic function in South Korea for about 50 years: deterring against any possibility of attack from North Korea's army of more than a million soldiers. While critics may come and go, this is one security alliance most officials of both countries feel they cannot afford to endanger.


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