Korean Noise Pollution Ruling Triggers Anti-U.S. Coalition

SEOUL, Korea, May 11, 2001 (ENS) - A court order for compensation of Korean villagers for noise pollution caused by U.S. Air Force military exercises is encouraging civic groups to press for more action to halt environmental problems caused by the U.S. military in Korea.

Groups are gathering to press for revision of the just amended Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) in a bid to have the U.S. military take direct responsibility for all of its illegal activities, says the national environmental advocacy group Green Korea. The revised agreement which took effect April 3 outlines the legal rights of the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed in Korea.

Twenty-four civic groups are creating a coalition to represent residents living near U.S. bases in Korea in lawsuits against U.S. forces in the country, organizers say.

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Koreans demonstrate against noise pollution at the U.S. Air Force Koon-ni firing range. (Photo courtesy Green Korea)
The U.S. military has 20 bases in South Korea and operates several ranges for training under a mutual defense pact.

A ruling April 11 by Seoul District Court that 14 residents of the coastal village of Maehyang-ri must be compensated for damages caused by U.S. bombing exercises, marks the first time the Korean government has been ordered to pay compensation for damage inflicted on residents by U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) military exercises.

The court ordered the Korean government to pay a combined total of 132 million won ($104,466) in compensation to the residents for damages from strafing exercises at the nearby U.S. Air Force Koon-ni range about 80 kilometers (50 kilometers) southwest of Seoul.

The residents filed suit in February 1998, saying they have suffered damage to their houses and excessive noise from the military drills since the range was built in 1954, soon after the close of the Korean War.

"We have found that Maehyang-ri residents have been troubled with an intolerable level of noise pollution caused by the U.S. military's firing exercises almost every day since Koon-ni range was set up in 1955," presiding judge Chang Jun-hyon said in the ruling.

"Maehyang-ri residents deserve compensation for physical and mental damages," the judge ruled. But he rejected a demand by villagers that the military range be shut down.

American warplanes still conduct their strafing exercises on the nearby Nongsom island, 1.5 kilometers (one mile) from the village.

Chun Man-Kyo, a 45-year-old Maehyang-ri resident who led the lawsuit action, says he will launch another lawsuit in the United States.