S Korea appeals ruling to compensate Vietnam War massacre victim

A court in Seoul had ruled that Nguyen Thi Thanh be compensated for injuries sustained during a mass killing of Vietnamese civilians in 1968.

A South Korean Vietnam War veteran looks at pictures taken during the war during a rally to mark the 48th anniversary
South Korean veteran of the Vietnam War looks at photos taken during the war and featured at a rally in Seoul in 2012 to mark the 48th anniversary commemorating South Korea's participation in the conflict as a US ally [File: Ahn Young-joon/AP Photo]

South Korea’s government has appealed against a court order to pay compensation to a Vietnamese woman who was the victim of atrocities perpetrated by South Korean troops during the Vietnam War in the 1960s.

The government appealed against a decision by a court in Seoul last month that had ordered the state to pay 30 million won ($22,730) to Nguyen Thi Thanh, 63, in compensation for injuries sustained when she survived a mass killing of civilians by South Korean troops in 1968.

An estimated 300,000 South Korean soldiers fought alongside US forces in Vietnam and the awarding of compensation to Thanh marked the first legal acknowledgement of South Korea’s liability for atrocities committed by its forces during the bloody conflict.

“We will fully cooperate with the trial proceedings under continued consultations with related agencies to receive an appellate ruling based on substantial truth,” the country’s Ministry of Defence said in a statement to the Reuters news agency.

Thanh was just eight years old when South Korean marines swept through her village of Phong Nhi in central Vietnam on February 12, 1968, killing more than 70 unarmed civilians, including five members of Thanh’s family.

She sustained a gunshot wound to her stomach during the rampage, in which her mother and two siblings died, requiring her to spend almost a year in hospital recovering.

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 [File: Hong/AP Photo]

The Seoul Central District Court said in its February 7 ruling on the case that the killing of Vietnamese villagers by the marines was “a clearly illegal act”.

“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 court said, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.

South Korea’s Defence Minister Lee Jong-Sup responded to the court ruling last month stating that his ministry was certain there were “absolutely no massacres committed by our troops” during the Vietnam War.

The court’s decision to compensate the victim had damaged the honour of South Korean soldiers, he said.

“We cannot agree with the ruling … We will hold discussions with related agencies to determine our next legal step,” he added at the time, foreshadowing the appeal announced on Thursday.

South Korean troops have been implicated in a number of mass killings during the conflict in Vietnam with one study estimating that thousands of innocent Vietnamese may have been killed by South Korea’s forces.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters