South Korea court rules in favour of Vietnam War massacre victim

Nguyen Thi Thanh was eight when she was shot in the stomach by South Korean marines who massacred some 70 civilians in Vietnam’s central Quang Nam province.

South Korean troops of the White Horse Division with three Vietnamese prisoners in 1966 [File: Hong/AP Photo]
South Korean troops of the White Horse Division with three Vietnamese prisoners during the war in Vietnam in 1966 [Hong/AP Photo]

A court in South Korea has ruled in favour of a Vietnamese woman who was shot and lost family members when South Korean marines massacred civilians during the Vietnam War.

The ruling on Tuesday in favour of Nguyen Thi Thanh marks the first time a court in South Korea has acknowledged state liability and the need to compensate victims of the slaughter in Phong Nhi village in Vietnam’s central Quang Nam province where some 70 civilians were killed in 1968, local media reported.

Compensation amounting to some 30 million won (almost $24,000) was ordered to be paid by the South Korean government to Nguyen Thi Thanh, with interest, South Korea’s official Yonhap News Agency reported.

“It is acknowledged that the plaintiff’s family members died at the site and she sustained serious wounds … from the shooting by marine troops,” the Seoul Central District Court said, calling the killings “a clearly illegal act”, Yonhap reported.

Ruling in favour of the plaintiff, the court dismissed the state’s argument that it could not be held liable owing to agreements signed at the time of the war between South Korea, the then-South Vietnamese government, and the United States.

The state had also argued that the involvement of the 2nd Marine Brigade of the Republic of Korea Marines had not been clearly proven, or that the killings were a “justifiable act given the peculiar characteristics of the Vietnam War”, Yonhap reported.

According to The Korea Herald, in her testimony filed in court in 2020, Nguyen Thi Thanh said that she was just eight years old when the massacre took place and that she was shot in the stomach by a South Korean soldier requiring her to spend almost a year in hospital.

Nguyen Thi Thanh, now 63, in a video call from Vietnam arranged by her lawyer after the ruling, welcomed the decision and said it would be a “comfort for the souls who fell victim to the incident”, Reuters news agency reported.

More than 320,000 South Korean military personnel served in Vietnam between 1964 and 1973, deployed to the conflict by South Korea’s then-military ruler Park Chung-hee in support of US forces and the so-called fight against Communists, the Korea Herald reported.

South Korea had the second-largest troop presence in Vietnam after the US.

Seoul has never officially acknowledged that its forces committed massacres against Vietnamese civilians nor has it formally investigated reports of mass killings in several locations during the war, according to the Herald.

Source: Al Jazeera