Seventeen GI's stationed in South Korea are petitioning President Carter to withdraw U.S. support from President Park Chung Hee over his alleged repression of human rights.
The signers of a 250-word statement addressed to the President are all enlisted men in the 2d Infantry Division, which is to withdraw from South Korea with all other U.S. ground-combat units over the next five years.
Secretary of Defense Harold Brown opens two days of talks with President Park and other Seoul government ministers Monday on the timing of the pullout and compensatory measures to offset any weakening in South Korea's defenses.
The petition reads, in part: "We believe that with the current administration's stand on human rights it is time for the American government and the American people to position themselves against the regime of President Park Chung Hee. We are personally not prepared to fight, die, or support for another minute a narrow-minded government that:
"Under the guises of 'anti-communism' and 'democracy' allows its leader absolute power over his subjects.
"Legally and illegally jails, tortures, harasses, and when it can, executes on trumped-up charges of subversion, those who would seek constructive change of the Korean government and . . . basic freedom of speech, press, and expression that are the hallmarks of a real democracy."
The soldiers dismiss as "basic military propaganda" the explanation frequently given for the U.S. presence in South Korea - the preservation and defense of a democratic nation. They urge President Carter to cease supporting a dictatorship "which is against our principles as Americans."
If the United States must remain involved, the signers say, it should seek a peaceful settlement with North Korea and "encourage an end to the Park repression."
The writers say that they will not tolerate the harassment that "others sending letters like this have incurred. We are not going to take it."
Handwritten signatures were added under the inscription "in the cause of peace and justice."
A photocopy of the petition made available to The Washington Post carried only the first two signatures, but three of the signers authenticated the letter and said that the remaining signatures are on a second sheet of the original. The copy mailed to the White House did not carry any signatures, they said, since some individuals did not wish to be identified.
The anti-government protest by serving U.S. military men is unprecedented in South Korea. Similar petitions against the government of South Vietnam were common in the closing stages of the Vietnam War, but observers believe this to be the first organized protest petition here.
It surfaces at a particularly sensitive time, as the administration is negotiating the terms of withdrawal and compensation with South Korea and still faces the hurdle of winning congressional approval.
Under a 1967 status-of-forces agreement with U.S. military personnel are forbidden to involve themselves in South Korea's political affairs. A military spokesman said the petition would require close scrutiny by legal officers to determine whether it violates the agreement.
Public information officers at headquarters of U.S. Forces Korea reacted sharply when informed of the petition.
After contacting high-ranking officials of Brown's delegation at a banquet, a spokesman declared that he could not comment on a document he had not seen. "I would point out," he added, "that the position of this command about the essentiality of our current presence and service in Korea has been frequently and firmly stated."
During the withdrawal period, Defense Secretary Brown told 2d Division troops at Camp Pelham today. "It will be even more important that our ground-combat forces along with the other U.S. units here in Korea remain fully combat-ready, fully able to do their job - capable of helping to deter aggression by being able to fight effectively if necessary."
Three of the petition's signers described their feelings about the U.S. commitment to South Korea in lengthy interviews tonight at Tongeuchon, the town 10 miles south of the Demilitarized Zone that adjoins the 2d Division's Camp Casey headquarters.
Pfc. Edward S. Cracraft, 20, of Adrian, Mich., is a generator mechanic with the 122d Sixth Signals Battalion.
"We believe the people putting their lives on the line for the political decisions have a right to take part in the decision-making," he said.
A college dropout who still has two years of a three-year enlistment to serve, Cracraft said he believes that any further U.S. aid should be dependent on the resignation of Park and the establishment of a democratic government in South Korea.
"I don't feel as an American that my tax dollars and my life should be on the line for a corrupt government which will not allow basic human rights," Cracraft said.
Sp. 4 Dale P. Nielsen, 20, of Amherst, Mass., a clerk in the 2d Finance Co. said: "There's no reason to keep the ground troops here and they should leave now . . . The reason we are here is that if the North Koreans come over, we will get wiped out and that will enrage the American public."
E-4 Stephen Pushor, 25, a political science graduate of Indiana University, is also a Finance Co. clerk: "The Koreans are great people. I know they can vote for themselves and have a better government and I know Park isn't going to let them."
"I would love to see Park Chung Hee go . . . Most people here are involved in having a good time with the girls," Pushor said, "but if you look a poll you would find most people don't like Park because they don't like dictators and repression. They think about Vietnam and think here we go again."
All three men say their anger with the South Korean government mounted steadily over the last few months as they read in the American newspapers about the so-called Korea-gate bribery case and allegations of South Korean involvement in American political development.
They concede, however, that the catalyst in the drafting of the petition was the arrival in South Korea for a month's visit of an ex-Marine named Frank Zabosky, 21, of Berkeley, Calif.
An anti-war, anti-military campaigner who admits that he frequently tangled with military authorities over politics, Zabosky came to South Korea with the express aim of locating and mobilizing anti-Park sentiment.
He found the opinion, but he didn't mobilize anything," Cracraft said today. "We just needed the motivation."
The serving soldiers also say that Zabosky's politics are further to the left than theirs.They deny any sympathies with communism, although one person invited to sign the petition accused them of promoting Communist propaganda and threatened to beat up one of their number.
The 17 signatures were obtained they say, among a small group of personal acquaintances in rear-echelon units. In view of the need for discretion, they said, they did not attempt to solicit signatures among the combat infantry soldiers.