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Court rules government not responsible for war victim

South Korea’s top court on Tuesday ruled that the government is not responsible for compensating a Korean civilian killed by the U.S. Navy’s shelling during the 1950-53 Korean War.

The Supreme Court ordered a retrial for the case in a lower court, reversing an earlier verdict that had demanded the government pay 48.8 million won ($39,600) to the victim’s bereaved families.

(Yonhap)
(Yonhap)

The victim, identified only by his surname Bang, was one of about a thousand victims killed by artillery fire from a U.S. Pacific Fleet destroyer, the Haven, along the beach of Pohang, while fleeing the war in September 1950.

After the U.S. naval destroyer received a request to open shelling into the crowd -- a mix of Korean refugees including Bang -- along the beach, it checked with the Korean Army’s 3rd Division as to whether or not to fire.

The Korean Army said that it had information about enemy troops mixed in with the crowd and asked the U.S. Navy to fire the artillery, which killed Bang and hundreds of other civilians at the scene.

The case came to light after a civic committee on revisiting Korea’s history in 2010 unveiled a report on the issue. The bereaved families of Bang filed a suit against the government, seeking financial compensation for the civilian’s death.

In the first trial, a local district court ruled that the 3rd Division was operating under Lt. Col. Rollins S. Emmerich, and thus the Korean government had no responsibility to compensate the victims’ family.

A higher court, however, overturned the verdict, saying the Korean Army’s request to the U.S. Navy was decisive in firing the artillery into the civilians. It added that there was no evidence that Emmerich ordered the shelling at his own discretion.

The Supreme Court viewed the shelling as a result of the U.S. Armed Forces’ war strategy, which presumed civilians as taking side with enemy troops unless proven otherwise. “Bang was victimized by the U.S. Navy, not by the Korean government or its officials,” it said in the ruling. 

By Ock Hyun-ju (laeticia.ock@heraldcorp.com)

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