- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 12, 2000

The U.S. military command in South Korea is downplaying its own written warning to commands to be on the look out for "anti-American strike squads."

The message, first disclosed by The Washington Times last week, was headlined "Force protection message announcing formation of anti-American strike squads."

But yesterday, the U.S. Forces Korea command said it has no firm evidence that such units exist.

"We received secondhand information that a website had advocated the creation of such squads," said a command statement to The Times. "We have been unable to find any such website and have no information that any squads exist. However, we took the opportunity to reemphasize force protection measures… ."

In Washington, a South Korean official also downplayed reports of hit squads in his country, saying Koreans have no inclination to form such groups.

"Strike squads? I think it's nonsense," Han Joon-yeob, spokesman for the South Korean Embassy, said. "I think it's nonsense. I don't think so. The Korean people are peace-loving people. We can't organize groups like this."

The Seoul-based U.S. command sent out the message after two broad-daylight attacks on U.S. citizens in June.

In one, an assailant on June 25 stabbed to death an Army major who was a physician with the 18th Medical Command. In the second incident, a Korean shouting anti-American slogans assaulted a service member's wife. She was not seriously injured.

The U.S. command's statement said it believes both attacks were isolated incidents and "in no way reflect the attitude of the majority of the Korean people towards Americans stationed here… . There remains a strong and special relationship between United States Forces Korea and the people of the Republic of Korea."

Anti-American demonstrations have picked up in recent weeks after an historic North-South summit in Pyongyang. The talks by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung spurred spurred leftist students to demonstrate for the removal of 37,000 U.S. troops.

Mr. Han said America-bashing is confined to a minority of young people who do not know of U.S. sacrifices in the Korean War. The war saw the communists driven from the South and eventually resulted in a democratic South.

"The sentiment of the younger generation is quite different than ours. We were saved by the American truce," Mr. Han said. "Most of my generation and even the 30s and 40s are 'safe' in sentiment toward American troops. But the young generation did not experience the Korea War and they are very independent and they do not know some history, the whole tragedy… . Most of the Korean people know the Americans sacrificed."

The "force protection" message ordered commanders to enforce a "buddy system" in which personnel only travel off post in the company of friends.

"Recent anti-American sentiment, demonstrations, protest activities, rhetoric and now two broad daylight attacks in heavily populated shopping areas is disturbing and make these enhanced force protection measures prudent," the message said.

The command is also maintaining a "civil disturbance hot line" to keep Americans updated on planned demonstrations.

The message was updated yesterday, saying U.S. military installations "continue to be subject to anti-American demonstrations." It advises personnel to "keep a low profile, be unpredictable, be alert, avoid large crowds and utilize the buddy system."

Mr. Han said the civil disobedience is not evidence of a Korean-American split.

"We have long-standing relations, these two countries, America and the Korean people," he said. "I can't use the words 'safe' or 'safer.' It's not a perfect word. Underneath, in every society, there is a person with some 'anti' sentiment."

The Clinton administration and congressional leaders say now is not the time to pull American troops from the South. Their presence, which costs U.S. taxpayers about $3 billion annually, has served as a deterrent against an invasion by the North since the war ended in 1953.

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