Students shouted, “Stop interfering with our domestic affairs!” and chanted “Get out!” and “We don’t need U.S. troops!” before being removed by police, Reuters reported.
A State Department spokesperson, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed the breach. Seoul Metropolitan Police entered the U.S. government facility at the embassy’s request and arrested the students.
“We note with strong concern that this is the second instance of illegal entry into the Ambassador’s residential compound in 14 months. We urge the ROK to strengthen its efforts to protect all diplomatic missions to the Republic of Korea,” the spokesperson said.
South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it would tighten security for the U.S. Embassy and the ambassador’s residence, Reuters reported.
“Any harm or attack on such a diplomatic mission cannot be justified under any circumstances, and the government will take all appropriate measures to protect the missions and prevent any acts that disturb their well-being,” the ministry said in a statement.
The Korea Herald, an English-language newspaper based in Seoul, said Friday’s demonstration was a surprise protest by what it characterized as a “progressive civic group” of students.
The cost of maintaining an American military presence to aid in South Korea’s defense against North Korea has been a point of tension in recent months, particularly after President Trump inaccurately claimed during a February Cabinet meeting that “South Korea is costing us $5 billion a year. And they pay — they were paying about $500 million for $5 billion worth of protection.”
According to a previous analysis by The Washington Post, South Korea’s payment to the U.S. last year was around $830 million, which covered approximately 40 percent of the cost of the U.S. deployment; the total cost for the United States is closer to $1.25 billion, not the $5 billion figure Trump stated.
U.S. military bases have a complex history in South Korea, due to politics as well as their association at times with prostitution, black markets and other vices. Yet even if hostilities were defused between North and South Korea, many South Koreans support an ongoing U.S. presence.
By the end of the year, the United States will complete the move of its largest foreign military base from Seoul, where it’s been for 70 years, to the massive new Camp Humphreys facility roughly 45 miles to the south.
Joyce Lee contributed to this report.
Correction: an earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the location of the breach as the U.S. Embassy.