-- The governments of South Korea and the United States hoped a statement of regret from President Clinton would end the controversy over the killing of civilians by American soldiers in the Korean War, but survivors of the attack at No Gun Ri said today they were not satisfied.
Survivors and their supporters called a U.S. report issued Thursday on the incident "incomplete and too late" and complained that even after five decades of denials, the U.S. government appeared reluctant to fully confront the incident.
"This is not enough for the massacre [of] over 60 hours, of 400 innocent people who were hunted like animals," said Chung Eun Yong, 80, who said his 6-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter were killed by American troops while they huddled under a railroad trestle with other civilians in July 1950.
But the government in Seoul said Clinton's acknowledgment that American soldiers killed civilians was "a very difficult decision" and appealed for public acceptance of the president's statement.
"It isn't completely satisfactory, but in the beginning, the Americans did not even acknowledge the existence" of the killings near No Gun Ri village in the first days of the Korean War, said Ahn Byung Woo, who helped preside over the Korean investigation. "However, now they are acknowledging it, and the American president has even expressed his regret."
A summary of separate U.S. and Korean investigations into the incident, issued today in Seoul and Thursday in Washington, acknowledged that American soldiers shot to death an "unknown number" of South Korean refugees early in the Korean War, but said there was no evidence that they were ordered to do so.
"On behalf of the United States of America, I deeply regret that Korean civilians lost their lives at No Gun Ri in late July 1950," President Clinton said in a simple three-paragraph statement that accompanied the report. His statement called it one of the "tragedies of war."
The Pentagon concluded that panicky and ill-prepared American troops had shot at refugees as they huddled under a bridge between July 26 and 29, 1950. Survivors say more than 300 were killed and that American planes strafed columns of civilians and troops poured bullets into the huddled refugees.
The Pentagon and White House walked a careful semantic line that declined to take responsibility for the deaths or offer a direct apology. "What befell civilians in the vicinity of No Gun Ri in late July 1950 was a tragic and deeply regrettable accompaniment to a war forced upon unprepared U.S. and Republic of Korea forces," the Army's investigative report concluded.
In Seoul, the government tried to put the best light on the statement. "Considering the context, we analyzed it as an expression of regret that includes the meaning of apology," Ahn said. He noted the U.S. government has offered $1 million to build a memorial and $750,000 in scholarships, and said, "We hope this becomes a symbol for better relations in the future between the two countries."
But speaking an hour later, representatives of the No Gun Ri survivors' group said they would refuse to accept any scholarship money not directly earmarked for survivors. And they angrily rejected the characterization of the shooting as a spontaneous, unplanned incident. They pointed to accounts from veterans and references in military logs that suggest there were orders to fire on all civilians to stop them from fleeing along with North Korean troops disguised as refugees.
"We are talking massacre here. It's not just the shooting of a few. If hundreds died, that's called a massacre," said group leader Chung Koo Do, whose younger brother and sister were killed in the shooting. "This massacre did not take place in one short period of time. It went on for three nights and four days. The American Army and Air Force took action in a carefully coordinated joint operation. It was not an incidental occurrence."
They said the statement of regret offered by Clinton was weak and evasive.
"The word 'regret' may be considered an equivalent of an apology in the diplomatic world, but we are civilians, not diplomats," said Chung. "Either they apologize or they don't. It's as clear as that."
The United States will not offer compensation to the survivors, and the memorial and scholarships are not being offered specifically to those who died at No Gun Ri. Clinton said they will be dedicated "to these and all other innocent Korean civilians killed during the war," although Ahn said the memorial probably would be erected at No Gun Ri, 100 miles southeast of Seoul.
Both governments are anxious that inquiries into the Korean War not expand beyond No Gun Ri. There are somewhat similar accounts that U.S. troops, thrown into retreat in the early days of the war, fired on refugees fleeing with them, fearing that the civilians included North Korean infiltrators.
Ahn tried to close the door today on investigations of those other accounts.
"It is realistically difficult to undertake investigations like this for future cases," he said. "Maybe we might have to recognize similar cases, but this kind of 15-month long investigation is exceptional, and for future cases would be almost impossible."
Struck reported from Tokyo. Staff writer Roberto Suro contributed from Washington.