In a First, South Korea Is Ordered to Compensate a Vietnam War Victim

SEOUL — A Seoul court on Tuesday ruled that South Korean marines were guilty of massacring unarmed villagers during the Vietnam War and ordered the South Korean government to pay compensation to one of the victims. Vietnam.​

The ruling is the first of its kind and is expected to set a precedent in the country, where the government has long refused to address allegations of massacres of civilians by the South Korean military in South Korea. Vietnam.

Nguyen Thi Thanh, 62, sued the South Korean government in 2020, saying she lost five relatives — she and her brother were seriously injured — when South Korean marines sweeping through Phong Nhi village, Phong Nhut in central Vietnam on February 12, 1968, killing more than 70 villagers.

Most of the victims, shot or bayoneted, were women and children, who were “killed” as they pleaded for their lives, according to a US military officer who investigated the incident. right after it happened.

As part of the ruling, Judge Park Jin-soo of the Seoul Central District Court ordered the government to pay Ms. Park Jin-soo. Nguyen was awarded $23,900, saying that what members of South Korea’s Second Marine Brigade did to her family was “clearly an illegal act.” The judge agreed with Ms. Nguyen that the South Korean marines surrounded the villagers with guns and massacred them. The judge also rejected the government attorneys’ attempt to invoke the statute of limitations

The ruling marks the first time a South Korean court has held the government accountable for a massacre of civilians during the Vietnam War.

“I am very happy to hear this news,” she said. Nguyen, who did not attend the court ruling in Seoul on Tuesday, said in a video clip distributed by her Korean lawyers. “I think the souls of the victims were on my side throughout the trial.”

South Korea sent 320,000 troops to Vietnam, becoming the largest foreign force fighting alongside American forces in the war. But it has long been rumored that the Korean army has killed a series of Vietnamese civilians.​

When Ms. Nguyen enlisted the help of human rights lawyers and civil groups in Seoul to file a lawsuit three years ago, she became the first victim of such a massacre to find remedy in Korean court. South Korea’s defense ministry said on Tuesday that it was discussing the court’s ruling with other government agencies.

The ruling may encourage victims of other mass murders in Vietnam to file similar lawsuits in South Korea. Nguyen’s lawyers hope that the ruling will prompt South Korea’s National Assembly to pass a special law to investigate longstanding allegations that the South Korean military has killed thousands of civilians in Vietnam.

The Phong Nhi and Phong Nhut massacres took place a month before the My Lai massacre, where American soldiers killed hundreds of unarmed Vietnamese civilians.

But the efforts to confront the brutality of one of the bloodiest wars in modern history have sparked intense emotions in both the United States and South Korea. Only one soldier — Lieutenant William Calley — was convicted in the My Lai massacre, and President Richard Nixon reduced his life sentence to several years of house arrest.

In 2000 in Korea, Vietnam War veterans attacked the office of a magazine that reported on massacres of wartime civilians. Many veterans have long complained of health problems that they attribute to the Agent Orange used by the US military during the war.

The massacres in Phong Nhi and Phong Nhut were among a series of mass murders believed to have been perpetrated by Korean soldiers in Vietnam. The US military investigated the case just days after the killings occurred, according to declassified US documents.

According to the documents, U.S. Marines and South Vietnamese militia operating in Dien Ban, Quang Nam province, heard gunfire and saw burning huts after the South Korean marine unit moved away. moved into Phong Nhi and Phong Nhut to investigate a small fire that injured a Marine. ​.

US Marines and militiamen assist villagers fleeing with wounds. Soldiers later visited Phong Nhi and found piles of bodies. One of the U.S. Marines took the photos, which were presented as evidence in court.

During the trial, government lawyers said there was not enough evidence to prove the South Korean marines carried out a massacre. Even if it did happen, they said, it should be considered an unfortunate but not illegal part of guerrilla warfare between the Viet Cong and Korean marines.

At the trial, the testimony of Ryu Jin-seong, 76, a former member of the South Korean marine unit accused of killing civilians in Nguyen’s village, corroborated her testimony.‌

For years, both the South Korean and Vietnamese governments refused to openly discuss the grievances of the victims, focusing instead on promoting economic ties between the two nations. “But I testified in court because no one else would tell the truth,” Ryu said in an online forum last month. “South Korea must clean up its past.”

The Korean government has one week to appeal the ruling.


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