(ATTN: RECASTS throughout with transfer of soldiers to U.S. military)
SEOUL, Nov. 10 (Yonhap) -- South Korean police handed over two American soldiers to U.S. military authorities on Saturday, hours after detaining them on theft charges, a police officer said.
A 26-year-old is suspected of stealing a jacket worth about 60,000 won (US$53) off a mannequin from a store in the country's southwestern city of Gwangju around 10:06 p.m. Friday, the officer said.
The man fled the scene after the theft, but about 30 minutes later he was walking through the store when a row erupted with the store owner over the clothing. The soldier threw down the jacket and fled again.
The suspect walked back near the same store again about 38 minutes later and was arrested by police at the scene, along with a 23-year-old soldier whose participation in the crime remains unclear.
The police officer said the two soldiers -- both corporals -- came from the U.S. air base in Osan, about 55 kilometers south of Seoul, but he did not identify their names.
The officer said the two U.S. soldiers refused to answer police questions in the presence of a U.S. official, but they were later handed over to the military authorities under an agreement that governs the legal status of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.
"They neither admitted nor denied the charges, but the crime is acknowledged as footage from a security camera showed the 26-year-old stealing the jacket," the police officer said by phone from Gwangju, about 330 kilometers of Seoul. He asked not to be named, citing policy.
The officer said police will refer the case to prosecutors for an indictment.
About 28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea as a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.
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