South Koreans protest over U.S. forces dumping chemicals
SEOUL - About 1,500 South Korean workers and students protested on Saturday against the dumping of chemicals by U.S. forces into a major Seoul river.
"Apologise for the shameful act," shouted the demonstrators in front of a U.S. Army Garrison in Yongsan, downtown Seoul. "Those who are responsible should be punished!"
The marchers briefly clashed with anti-riot police, who tried to prevent them from moving to the garrisons main gate.
Some people were beaten by the police, but there were no arrests nor serious injuries, witnesses and police said.
The protests followed a day after the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) admitted dumping chemicals into the Han River in February. The admission followed a claim by a South Korean environmental group that such an act had taken place.
On Thursday, Green Korea United accused the Eighth Army mortuary in the Yongsan garrison of discharging about 228 litres of formaldehyde, used to prevent decomposition of human remains, into the Han River.
The chemical could cause cancer and birth defects, the environment group said.
"Based on our formal investigation, it was determined that a one-time release of formaldehyde in February of this year did occur," said the USFK in a statement.
"At most 20 gallons of formaldehyde were disposed of through the wastewater sewage system on the Yongsan compound."
But the USFK said it believed it caused no damage to the environment after a waste treatment and dilution process that the toxic chemicals went through, adding that an investigation was still going on.
Green Korea said the discharge was only the tip of iceberg.
Some 100 protesters from Green Korea United on Friday fired water rockets into the U.S. Army garrison, demanding Thomas A.Schwartz, commander-in-chief of the USFK, issue an official apology.
"American soldiers have damaged our environment without mercy since they began to camp here 50 years ago," the environment group said in a statement.
The USFK has been using formaldehyde, often known as formalin, to embalm the bodies of U.S. servicemen before sending them home, it said.
Early on Saturday morning, about 15 college students threw five bottles of red paint into the compound of the Yongsan garrison to protest the release of the chemicals in the river.
Five students were taken into custody by the police.
The students also demanded the South Korean government revise a pact governing status of American troops stationed in the country.
The United States has said it and South Korea will work together to bring discussions on SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) to a mutually satisfactory conclusion.
SOFA is a bilateral treaty that spells out the rights and responsibilities of U.S. forces in South Korea.
The two sides have held seven rounds of talks on the renewal since 1995, but have yet to reach agreement on the contentious issue of how to handle the criminal prosecution of U.S. soldiers accused of crimes in South Korea, among other things.
The United States maintains 37,000 troops at more than 90 military bases and installations throughout South Korea.
South and North Korea remain technically at war. Their 1950-53 conflict ended in an armed truce that has yet to be replaced by a peace agreement.
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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