US pilots may have targetted civilians in Korean war

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The Independent Online

Declassified U.S. military documents show that American pilots sometimes attacked civilian groups in South Korea on suspicion they harbored enemy infiltrators.

Declassified U.S. military documents show that American pilots sometimes attacked civilian groups in South Korea on suspicion they harbored enemy infiltrators.

When the American firebombs hit, hundreds of terrified refugees trapped in the cave rushed for the entrance, villagers said. But only a dozen escaped with their lives.

The "Cave of the Crying Stream," its ancient name, was filled that day with the cries of the dying, they recalled.

Survivors and other witnesses said as many as 300 civilian refugees were killed in the U.S. air attack at the cavern near Youngchoon, 90 miles southeast of Seoul, on Jan. 20, 1951, in the seventh month of the Korean War.

The victims were local villagers and refugees from elsewhere taking shelter in the 150-yard-long cave, named for the sound made by a stream that flows through it during monsoon rains.

South Korean refugees poured into the Youngchoon area in January 1951 as a Chinese offensive pushed U.S. and South Korean forces deeper into South Korea. An official U.S. military history indicates the Chinese front line was several miles north of Youngchoon at the time.

In the dim light of kerosene lamps, the refugees had spread straw mats on the cave floor and huddled there with their luggage. People occasionally moved outside to prepare food. Children dashed in and out to play.

From a nearby hill, Kim Ok-yi, then 25, saw an observer plane circling over the cave entrance. Then four American planes flew in and dropped bombs that "looked like fuel drums and sent columns of fire soaring when exploded," Kim said.

They may have been napalm, gasoline-gel bombs heavily used by U.S. forces in the Korean conflict.

The fire quickly spread inside, survivors said, and smoke reeking of gasoline filled the cave. People stampeded toward the narrow entrance. Parents shouted for their children.

"People fell over each other. Most of them suffocated," said Cho Byong-woo, then 19. Cho was saved when his father threw him over the fire at the entrance, but he lost two uncles in the cave.

People rushing outside were then strafed by the planes, Cho said.

"An 11-year-old friend of mine, Kang-won, was running with his mother. Then a big bullet hit him. It cut his hand off and slashed his stomach like a razor. His bowels spilled out and he died on the spot," Cho said.

In an unexplained postscript, two American soldiers arrived by helicopter two or three weeks later, went inside the cave and took some photographs, villagers said.

After the bombing, local people pulled out bodies to look for family members. But most bodies remained inside, unclaimed.

"When we had floods, we used to see skeletal human remains floating out of the cave," Kim said. "Those who died the tragic death in the cave are still waiting for an explanation."

The U.S. and South Korean governments are investigating the alleged killing of hundreds of South Korean refugees by U.S. warplanes and ground troops at No Gun Ri, South Korea, in late July 1950. Once that investigation is completed, the Pentagon says, it will decide whether to look into other reported incidents.

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