- A South Korean court has issued arrest warrants to prevent them from fleeing the country
- They were protesting against a US demand for a hefty increase in South Korea's share of costs for US troops stationed there
A South Korean court has issued arrest warrants for four of the 19 students who broke into the US ambassador's home in Seoul last week, saying this will prevent them from fleeing from justice while standing trial.
Following the incident and a request from the US embassy, South Korean police have deployed about 80 additional personnel, bringing to about 110 the total number of people protecting the residence of US ambassador Harry Harris in central Seoul.
"Big shout out to Embassy guards & Seoul Metro Police Agency for responding to protesters who breached perimeter around my residence," Harris tweeted.
"2nd incident in 13 months in Heart of Seoul. This time they tried to forcibly enter my home itself. 19 arrested. Cats are OK," he said, apparently referring to an incident in September last year when a Chinese woman of Korean ancestry entered the compound by scaling the wall and roamed for a while before being arrested.
Big shout out to Embassy guards & Seoul Metro Police Agency for responding to protesters who breached perimeter around my residence. 2nd incident in 13 months in Heart of Seoul. This time they tried to forcibly enter my home itself. 19 arrested. Cats are OK. Thanks @polinlove !
" Harry Harris (@USAmbROK) October 19, 2019
The students, mostly in their early 20s, are members of the Daehaksaeng Jinbo Yonhap (The Association of Progressive Students), a small group of leftist-leaning pacifist students who have been campaigning for reconciliation with North Korea since their launch in March 2018.
They were protesting against the US demand for a hefty increase in South Korea's share of costs for the 28,500 US troops stationed there.
Seventeen of the 19 students scaled the walls of the ambassador's residential compound by using two extended ladders.
Pictures and video footage uploaded on their Facebook account showed protesters climbing on the ladders while others shouted slogans and unfurled banners with messages including "Leave this land, Harris".
Students scale wall of US embassy in Seoul in protest against US troops
They continued shouting slogans and waving banners once inside the compound, before being overpowered by security guards.
Police initially detained 19 students but later released 12 of them with a warning. Four of the remaining seven were formally arrested and will be detained, awaiting trial. The other three are likely to be indicted without being arrested. Breaking into a house by a group can be punishable by up to five years' imprisonment.
There have been reports that the US wants South Korea to pay US$5 billion for next year's cost-sharing deal aimed as a deterrent against the nuclear-armed North, up from 1.04 trillion won (US$871 million) this year. Seoul and Washington will continue their defence cost-sharing talks in Hawaii this week.
A ruling Democratic Party lawmaker Lee Chul-hee said last week that the US is seeking to dump the costs not only for US-South Korea joint military exercises but wages for Korean workers working for US troops on South Korea and expenses for troops' families as well.
"This means that the US wants the whole costs for keeping the US troops in this country," he said during a parliamentary audit of state affairs.
"This would make the US troops mercenaries, not forces of an ally," he said, adding this would constitute a breach of a 1953 post-Korean war mutual defence treaty under which South Korea shares the costs for maintaining US troops.
South Korean defence minister Jeong Kyeong-doo replied vaguely, saying Seoul would strive to clinch a "win-win" deal in defence cost-sharing talks with the United States.
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