US, Korea vow cooperation on No Gun Ri, defoliant
Added: (Wed Nov 24 1999)
Pressbox (Press Release) -
By Charles Aldinger
U.S. and South Korean defense leaders on Tuesday promised close cooperation in investigating the reported killing of hundreds of South Korean civilians by American troops in the village of No Gun Ri in the Korean War.
Defense Secretary William Cohen and visiting Defense Minister Cho Seong-tae also said their militaries would cooperate in a South Korean probe into the 1968 spraying of the controversial defoliant Agent Orange in the DMZ between the two Koreas.
But Cohen stressed at a joint news conference winding up a bilateral security meeting that the chemical was sprayed by South Korean troops and that the Pentagon did not plan to pay any compensation for complaints of resulting ills by South Koreans.
The U.S. Army and the South Korean government are conducting parallel investigations of reports that U.S. troops gunned down perhaps hundreds of innocent civilians at No Gun Ri July 26-29, 1950, as North Korean forces rapidly advanced on the area.
"As for the No Gun Ri Incident, we agreed to get to the bottom of this case through close bilateral consultation and investigations," Cho told reporters.
"Korea and the United States," he added, "agreed to exert active efforts based on close collaboration to resolve the recently surfacing issue related to Agent Orange."
In the Agent Orange case, some press reports in South Korea have suggested that the two government were involved in a cover-up of the spraying.
Cohen told reporters that the South Korean government made the decision to kill heavy plant cover in the DMZ after a series of infiltrations by North Korean agents into South Korea, including a 1968 commando raid on Seoul's Blue House presidential headquarters.
"We intend to fully cooperate with the Republic of Korea's inquires into the matter," said Cohen.
But he stressed in response to a question that the United States did not intend to pay any compensation to Koreans in connection with the spraying because Washington had not recognized any connection between Agent Orange and illness.
He said the Korean government itself decided after two years of discussions and deliberations with Washington that it would go forward with spraying Agent Orange in the DMZ to wipe out shrubbery hiding North Korean infiltrators.
"It was done through the application, I am told, by Republic of Korea forces under some supervision from American soldiers.
"As far as the liability is concerned, the United States has taken the position that there has been no conclusive evidence of connection between Agent Orange and some of the disabilities that have been suffered by a number of individuals."
He noted that the U.S. Veterans Administration did provide free medical care for Vietnam veterans in connection with Agent Orange complaints following the use of the defoliant during the Vietnam War.
But "in terms of any liability beyond that, the United States as far as the Department of Defense is concerned does not recognize any legal liability."
Cohen in September asked Army Secretary Louis Caldera in a letter to determine the full scope of facts surrounding press reports of civilian deaths at No Gun Ri in the early days of the 1950-1953 Korean conflict.
The Army review was ordered after an Associated Press report quoted villagers and U.S. veterans saying that hundreds of people including women and children were killed by the U.S. military.
The U.S. Army said on Tuesday it had set up an Internet Web site and a toll-free telephone hotline to get information to help investigate reports that U.S. soldiers killed civilians in No Gun Ri.
The Army said its telephone number for the investigation was 877-379-5595, which is toll-free within the United States.
To get to the No Gun Ri Web site, computer users should click on the No Gun Ri Web site link on the U.S. Army home page (www.army.mil). In addition, information can be e-mailed directly to the Office of the Army's inspector general through the link, the announcement said.