S. Korean Vietnam War veteran to take witness stand in case on civilian massacre

한겨레 입력 2021. 9. 15. 18:56
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Ryu made his name and face public last July at a National Assembly roundtable to discuss enacting a special law to investigate civilian massacres by South Korean troops during the Vietnam War. At the time, he said, "We assembled all the women and older people who had been unable to flee at the center of a rice paddy, and some civilians were killed in the process."

At the same time, it stressed, "There are questions about the potential objectivity of examinations of journalists who interviewed veterans, or of Prof. Kang as someone who saw the original US Forces Korea inspection report."

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A state compensation case filed by massacre survivor Nguyen Thi Thanh will call the veteran as a witness regarding the Phong Nhi and Phong Nhat massacre
Members of MINBYUN—Lawyers for a Democratic Society call for South Korea to acknowledge civilian massacres perpetrated by Korean soldiers during the Vietnam War and to pay the victims compensation during a press conference in front of the Seoul Central District Court on April 21, 2020. (Yonhap News)

A Vietnam War veteran is appearing as a witness in a state compensation case filed against the South Korean government by the survivor of a civilian massacre by South Korean troops during the conflict.

This marks the first time a South Korean soldier who served in the war will be appearing in court in connection with a civilian massacre.

In a third hearing Tuesday in a state compensation case filed by massacre survivor Nguyen Thi Thanh, judge Park Jin-su of the Seoul Central District Court’s 68th civil division announced the witness selection of an individual surnamed Ryu, a former member of the 1st Company of the 1st Battalion of South Korea’s 2nd Marine Division, also known as the Blue Dragons, which was deployed to fight in the Vietnam War. The selection was based on a witness request by Nguyen.

Ryu previously appeared anonymously in a video to share details about the Phong Nhi and Phong Nhat massacre in a people’s tribunal held in April 2018 to investigate the massacres of civilians by South Korean troops during the Vietnam War.

The incident in question took place in February 1968 with the massacre of around 70 residents of Phong Nhi — a village in the city (now a district) of Dien Ban, Quang Nam Province — by South Korean troops affiliated with the Blue Dragons.

Nguyen, who was 8 years old at the time, was severely wounded in her left side by gunfire from members of the 1st Battalion’s 1st Company. Although she survived, she continues to suffer aftereffects from the incident to this day.

Nguyen lost five of her family members in the massacre, while her 14-year-old brother was severely injured.

Ryu made his name and face public last July at a National Assembly roundtable to discuss enacting a special law to investigate civilian massacres by South Korean troops during the Vietnam War. At the time, he said, “We assembled all the women and older people who had been unable to flee at the center of a rice paddy, and some civilians were killed in the process.”

Other witnesses requested by Nguyen included Kang Sung-hyun, a Sungkonghoe University professor who made copies of original US military inspection report documents on civilian massacres by South Korean troops, and Hankyoreh reporters Koh Kyoung-tae and Hwang Sang-cheol, who interviewed Vietnam veterans for the magazine Hankyoreh 21.

While the government’s legal team did not object to the request to call Ryu as a witness, it did voice reservations about the request to put reporters on the stand.

“This is something that happened a very long time ago, and the witnesses are very old,” the team noted.

“Some of the memories may have become distorted in the process, and since there are limits on what a single person is capable of observing and hearing in a setting where operations were taking place in military units, we will consider whether they might be able to supplement Ryu’s account or speak about other aspects,” it said.

At the same time, it stressed, “There are questions about the potential objectivity of examinations of journalists who interviewed veterans, or of Prof. Kang as someone who saw the original US Forces Korea inspection report.”

At the earliest, Ryu’s examination is scheduled to take place at a hearing on Nov. 16.

By Joh Yun-yeong, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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