The commander of U.S. Forces Korea apologized Sunday for an incident involving a few U.S. soldiers who angered Koreans by handcuffing Korean civilians during an argument last week.
"I want to express my sincere apology to the individuals and community affected by the incident," said U.S. Army Gen. James Thurman, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), in a press release.
Seven U.S. military policemen got into an argument over parking with three South Koreans in a bustling area near a U.S. military camp in Pyeongtaek, a provincial city of 70 kilometers south of Seoul, on Thursday.
The military policemen on duty at the time of the incident handcuffed the three local men, including a 35-year-old man surnamed Yang, and tried to haul them into a U.S. military base nearby.
Three of the seven military policemen underwent a police interrogation Saturday for the handcuffing, which ran afoul of the South Korean law, while the remaining four are expected to be questioned soon.
"I have directed a thorough investigation. ... We will continue to cooperate with the ongoing Korean National Police investigation as we conduct our own investigation," Gen. Thurman also noted. "The Korean people are our good friends and the US-ROK Alliance is very important to us."
On Saturday, Lee Baek-soon, the director-general of the foreign ministry's North American Affairs Bureau, called in Lt. Gen. Jan-Marc Jouas, the deputy commander of the USFK, to lodge a complaint over the incident.
In a press conference held earlier in the afternoon, Jouas also expressed the U.S. military's apology and promised cooperation in the police investigation into the incident.
He will study if the USFK's patrol activities outside of military bases do not conform with the bilateral Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that governs the legal status of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, the deputy commander said in the conference held at the K-55 Osan Air Base.
Another military official Col. Patrick T. Mckenzie, the commander of the 51st Fighter Wing, visited the mayor of Pyeongtaek earlier in the day and discussed ways to prevent a repeat of such incidents.
Meanwhile, in the Saturday police investigation, the military policemen protested their innocence, defending the handcuffing as fair execution of their duties.
Police in Pyeongtaek quoted them as saying that they had to shackle the civilians because they were being shoved and threatened by local citizens at the scene, claims that have been refuted by the handcuffed civilians.
Police said they will take legal action against the soldiers if any illegalities are found in the handcuffing incident.
About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea as a legacy of the three-year Korean War that ended in 1953. U.S. forces fought alongside with South Korea against invading North Korean troops helped by Chinese soldiers. (Yonhap)