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(2nd LD) 1st S. Korean state compensation ordered for victim of Vietnam War mass killings

All News 19:13 February 07, 2023

(ATTN: UPDATES with defense ministry's reaction in last 2 paras)

SEOUL, Feb. 7 (Yonhap) -- A Seoul court on Tuesday ruled in favor of a Vietnamese national seeking compensation from South Korea's government after losing family members and suffering wounds when South Korean marines killed dozens of civilians in 1968 during the Vietnam War.

The Seoul Central District Court's ruling marks the first time a South Korean court has acknowledged the state's liability to compensate victims of the 1968 mass killings in the village of Phong Nhi in Vietnam's Quang Nam Province.

About 70 people were killed in the massacre reported to have been conducted by troops of the 2nd Marine Brigade of the Republic of Korea Marines while on a mission during the Vietnam War.

Nguyen Thi Thanh, a survivor of the killings, filed a damages suit against the South Korean government in 2020 seeking some 30 million won (US$23,894) in compensation. Nguyen claimed she lost her family members and sustained gunshot wounds herself.

On Tuesday, the court ordered the state should pay about 30 million won to her, along with interest.

The court rejected the government side's argument that it is immune to such a damages suit by a Vietnamese national in accordance with a relevant agreement signed between Vietnam and South Korea and the United States.

"It is hard to view that such an agreement has legal force preventing a Vietnamese individual from filing claims toward the South Korean government," the court noted.

The court also rejected the government's claims South Korean troops' involvement in the killings has not been clearly proven or it was a justifiable act given the peculiar characteristics of the Vietnam War.

"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, calling the incident "a clearly illegal act."

In a video call connected from Vietnam, Nguyen welcomed the ruling, saying she was tremendously delighted to learn of the decision that she said will serve as consolation to those killed.

Lawyers representing Nguyen hailed the ruling as the first acknowledgement by an official South Korean body of the Vietnam War mass killings of civilians.

The Ministry of National Defense, which oversees the dispatch of troops overseas, hinted it may seek an appeal.

"We will review follow-up steps after going through consultations with relevant agencies," the defense ministry said in a statement, when asked if it accepts the latest ruling.

A survivor of the Phong Nhi massacre during the Vietnam War testifies about the incident in South Korea in 2019. (Yonhap)

A survivor of the Phong Nhi massacre during the Vietnam War testifies about the incident in South Korea in 2019. (Yonhap)


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