Kim Dae-jung believes ties between U.S., S. Korea could improve

January 12, 2000


SEOUL, South Korea (A)) – Ties between the United States and South Korea could improve if Washington conducts a thorough inquiry into an alleged mass killing of refugees by American soldiers during the Korean War, President Kim Dae-jung said Tuesday. 

    The way the United States investigates what happened at Nogun-ri village in July 1950 will affect the relationship between the two allies, Kim told U.S. Army Secretary Louis Caldera. 

    "The Nogun-ri incident is a sensitive issue but all truth should be clearly brought out so that South Korea-U.S. relations should not be damaged and will instead be enhanced," Kim was quoted as saying by his chief spokesman, Park June-young. 

    The United States remains South Korea’s closest ally and still keeps 37,000 U.S. soldiers stationed in the country under a defense treaty designed to ward off any threat from communist North Korea, which invaded the South in 1950.  The Korean War ended three years later without a permanent peace treaty. 

    Caldera arrived in South Korea on Sunday for talks on how to coordinate the two governments’ separate investigations of the Nogun-ri incident.  On Monday, Caldera and aides visited Nogun-ri and met a dozen villagers who say they survived the alleged mass killing. 

    After meeting Kim, Caldera said in a statement that the two countries agreed that the review of Nogun-ri "should be completed as expeditiously as possible without sacrificing thoroughness and accuracy."  Also Tuesday, Caldera met Chung Hae-joo, South Korea’s chief government policy coordinator. 

    It is clear that survivors suffered grievously," Caldera said at a joint news conference with Chung.  "The central claim of Nogun-ri makes it unique.  That is the claim that it was an intentional taking of innocent lives. 

    The Associated Press, citing dozens of villagers and U.S. veterans, reported in September that hundreds of Korean civilians were killed at Nogun-ri by American soldiers who feared North Korean soldiers were infiltrating groups of refugees. 

    The United States and South Korea had previously dismissed the claims, but opened investigations after the AP report was published.  Since then, South Koreans have come forward with more stories of alleged mass killings of civilians by U.S. troops.  Historians say Korean forces on both sides of the conflict committed atrocities. 

    Caldera told the AP on Sunday that the United States could not study "every firefight, every battle" of the war.  Caldera said all loss of life was regrettable, but emphasized the need to establish whether civilians were killed intentionally. 

    During the war, the United States led a 16-nation U.N. force in defending South Korea against North Korea, which was backed by China and the Soviet Union.  About 55,000 Americans were killed and more than 8,000 are still listed as missing.