The Korea Herald


S.Korean defense chief denies court ruling on Vietnam War massacre

By Ji Da-gyum

Published : Feb. 17, 2023 - 17:58

    • Link copied

Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup speaks during a plenary session of the National Assembly`s defense committee in Seoul on Feb. 17, 2023. (Yonhap) Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup speaks during a plenary session of the National Assembly`s defense committee in Seoul on Feb. 17, 2023. (Yonhap)
The South Korean defense chief said Friday that the military does not accept the recent court ruling acknowledging the accountability of South Korean troops for civilian carnage during the Vietnam War.

Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup underscored that South Korean troops stationed in Vietnam did not commit any wartime civilian massacres, citing records and testimonies compiled by the military.

“The Defense Ministry cannot agree with the court ruling,” Lee told the National Assembly’s defense committee when asked about the court verdict, which ordered the South Korean government to compensate a survivor of an alleged massacre committed by South Korean troops.

The defense minister also suggested that the South Korean military will make an appeal against the ruling.

“We will decide on next legal steps in discussion with relevant agencies,” Lee told lawmakers. “We take this seriously in light of the honor of our troops dispatched to Vietnam and factual grounds.”

The Seoul Central District Court ruled in favor of a Vietnamese plaintiff this month for the first time, acknowledging the liability of South Korean soldiers for threatening and killing unarmed civilians with guns and ammunition during the Vietnam war.

Nguyen Thi Thanh, the 62-year-old Vietnamese plaintiff, filed the lawsuit in April 2020, claiming in the testimony that she had witnessed South Korean marine corps opening fire at around 70 unarmed civilians, including herself, at Phong Nhi village in central Vietnam in February 1968. She also lost her five family members including her mother and siblings after South Korean marines swept through the village.

While refuting her testimony, Lee claimed that soldiers from other countries also wore South Korean military uniforms, echoing the South Korean government’s claim that the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong could have disguised as South Korean soldiers by donning Korean marine uniforms.

During the trial, the South Korean government insisted that there is no clear evidence that the South Korean military committed the massacre. The government also claimed that the testimonies of the survivors were the only evidence.

Han Ki-ho, head of the National Assembly’s defense committee, also “expressed deep regrets over the court ruling tarnishing the honor of South Korean soldiers dispatched to Vietnam.”

Approximately 350,000 South Korean military personnel were sent to Vietnam between 1964 and 1973 to fight alongside US troops against the aggression of the North Vietnamese communists.

“The dispatch of South Korean troops to the Vietnam War aimed to fight against communists, which was an inevitable decision for us at that time,” Han said.

“I urge the Defense Ministry to lodge an immediate complaint against the ruling acknowledging the South Korean government’s liability for damages, despite unverified evidence that casts doubt on the testimony of the plaintiff.”