Korean Church asks forgiveness for military atrocities committed during the Vietnam War

Bishop Peter Lee Ki-Heon, chairman of the Commission for Reconciliation, led a delegation to the Diocese of Lang Son-Cao Bang. Some 350,000 South Korean soldiers fought alongside US troops in the Vietnam War. This week, a court in Seoul awarded compensation to a Vietnamese woman wounded in a 1968 operation in which 70 civilians were killed.

Lang Son (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A South Korean bishop visited a diocese in northern Vietnam where he asked forgiveness for the atrocities committed by South Korean soldiers during the Vietnam War.

Bishop Peter Lee Ki-Heon of Uijeongbu, 75, served as military ordinary in the Armed Forces of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) from 1999 to 2010. This week, he travelled with 12 priests from his diocese to the church in Lang Son-Cao Bang.

The South Korean delegation was met by the local bishop, Mgr Giuse (Joseph) Châu Ngọc Tri, together with several priests and catechists. Fr Giuse (Joseph) Nguyễn Văn Đoan, who provides pastoral care to Vietnamese immigrants in the Diocese of Uijeongbu, organised the event.

Bishop Lee, a Pyongyang native, chairs the Special Commission for Reconciliation of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea. He spoke on behalf of the Church in South Korea.

During his address, he said that a former classmate who had fought against communist guerrillas in Vietnam, gave up on his religious vocation once he returned home because he felt guilty for the atrocities that had been committed.

Between 1964 and 1973, about 350,000 South Korean troops fought alongside US troops in Vietnam. Bishop Lee described both South Korea and Vietnam as lands of martyrs.

On Tuesday, a court in Seoul issued a historic ruling that recognises the responsibility of the South Korean government for a massacre committed by its soldiers during the Vietnam War.

On 12 February 1968, 70 residents of Phong Nhị, a village in Quang Nam province, were killed. Nguyễn Thị Thanh, now 62, was a child at the time; she was wounded and lost several relatives during the incident, including her mother.

In 2020, she sued the South Korean government and this week won; the court awarded her 30 million won (about US$ 24,000) in compensation.

The attorney representing the government argued that it was impossible to prove that South Korean troops were responsible for the massacre; however, the court heard Vietnamese witnesses and journalists and rejected this argument.

Photo taken from the website of the Diocese of Lang Son-Cao Bang showing the South Korean delegation.