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Saturday, January 13, 2001

Full apology is needed
for Korean War killings

Bullet The issue: The United States and South Korea have found that American soldiers killed "an unknown number" of South Korean refugees during the early days of the Korean War.

Bullet Our view: President Clinton's statement of regret doesn't go far enough.

PRESIDENT Clinton may have gone as far as he could in expressing regret over the killing of "an unknown number" of Korean refugees by American soldiers during the early days of the Korean War. Presumably bowing to the limited findings of a U.S.-South Korean investigation, he did not refer to the role of U.S. troops in the incident or issue a formal apology for their acts. He insisted that the Army had not "whitewashed" its conclusion that soldiers were not ordered to kill civilians.

However, his observation that the episode is a "painful reminder of the tragedies of war" seems inadequate -- more of a disclaimer than an acceptance of responsibility.

The investigation was sparked by a report by the Associated Press in September 1999 that won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. The AP found declassified documents revealing that U.S. forces had blanket orders to stop refugee movements and specific orders to shoot refugees trying to cross U.S. lines to safety. The orders were issued by commanders who feared North Korean infiltrators among the throngs of refugees.

According to the Associated Press, Korean survivors say as many as 300 people were killed over three days in late July 1950 at No Gun Ri by members of the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment after 100 were killed in a U.S. Air Force strafing.

A joint U.S.-South Korean statement said the investigation found no proof of orders to fire on civilians but cites documents establishing that U.S. troops were operating under "guidelines on shooting refugees." As if to excuse the soldiers, it said they were "young, under-trained, under-equipped and new to combat" and their officers were untested in battle.

None of those facts absolves the United States of responsibility for this atrocity. It is difficult to believe that orders were not issued to shoot the refugees and the statement that no proof of such orders was found appears to be an attempt to skirt the issue.

So was the statement that the soldiers "were legitimately fearful of the possible infiltration of North Korean soldiers who routinely entered American lines in groups disguised as civilians in refugee columns." Such concerns do not justify the killing of defenseless refugees.

Survivors said they would take their case for compensation from the U.S. government to the International Court of Justice, but success for such an effort seems improbable. The survivors rejected Clinton's expression of regret and offer of a $1 million memorial and a scholarship fund. On the basis of the Army's findings, unfortunately, little more can be expected at this late date.

Hong Kong democracy

Bullet The issue: A high-ranking official in the Hong Kong government who was known as a defender of democracy has resigned.

Bullet Our view: The resignation seems to indicate increasing control over Hong Kong by Beijing.

THE unexpected resignation of the second-ranking official in the Hong Kong government has observers speculating that China is tightening its grip on the former British colony.

The official, Anson Chan, left with 18 months remaining in her term as chief of the Hong Kong civil service. She was appointed by the last British governor before the reversion of the colony to China in 1997 and was considered a symbol of the city's determination to retain a measure of autonomy under Beijing.

Moreover, Chan was said to be the most vigorous advocate inside the government for civil liberties and the rule of law -- principles that are ignored in mainland China and could be at risk under Chinese rule.

Chan, 60, denied that she was leaving because of pressure from Beijing. Noting that she had served 38 years in the civil service, she said she had originally been scheduled to retire this month but Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa had asked her to stay until 2002. She explained that she felt comfortable leaving now because Hong Kong has recovered from the Asian economic crisis.

Last fall, the deputy prime minister of China, Qian Qichen, told Chan that she should be more supportive of Tung, who was appointed by Beijing. She maintained that her decision was unrelated to her meeting with Qian, but observers were skeptical.

The New York Times noted that Tung has said he plans a wholesale reform of the civil service -- "precisely not the time for the self-avowed guardian of the administration to depart."

Chan's retirement is the latest in a series of developments suggesting that China may be tightening its grip on Hong Kong.

Last month the Hong Kong Legislative Council voted to retain a law requiring seven days' notice to police for marches and rallies. Pro-democracy legislators and other citizens criticized the law as an infringement on freedom of expression and the right of assembly.

Last year, organizers of the annual vigil on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre were barred from travel to mainland China.

The departure of Chan is the latest in a series that may be related. In November, Willy Wo-Lap Lam, a prominent columnist specializing in China, left the South China Morning Post after he was stripped of many of his duties. In 1999, the outspoken head of the government-run Radio Television Hong Kong, Cheung Man-yee, was transferred to Japan.

There has been no abrupt curtailment of freedom in Hong Kong since the turnover from Britain. Instead there has been a gradual erosion. The departure of this personal link with the past -- and with the guarantee of autonomy that accompanied the turnover -- appears to be an ominous sign for the cause of democracy.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, Acting Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editor

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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