2000Investigative Reporting

Thousands Perished In North Korean Outrages During War

By: 
Associated Press Staff Writers
October 13, 1999

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North Korean atrocities made headlines and outraged much of the world during the 1950-53 Korean War.

Some of the first reports, in July 1950, told of captured U.S. soldiers bound and summarily executed by North Korean troops near the battle lines in southeast Korea.

In September 1950, U.S. Army units retaking Taejon, South Korea, reported finding the bodies of hundreds of Korean civilians, slaughtered in large groups and hurriedly buried before the North Koreans retreated.

A U.S. Army war crimes report later estimated the Taejon dead at 5,000 to 7,500, including businessmen, police and other government employees, and 42 American prisoners of war. Many had been severely beaten and mutilated, it said.

The North Koreans, for their part, alleged that earlier the southern government had murdered thousands of communist sympathizers around Taejon before the initial South Korean retreat from the city in July 1950.

Official U.S. sources and Western journalists reported such South Korean atrocities during the war. In one case, two South Korean army officers were sentenced to life in prison in 1951 for leading an army massacre of 187 people in a South Korean village deemed supportive of communist guerrillas.

The total number killed by war crimes in Korea remains as imprecise today as the figures for total casualties in the war.

United Nations and other sources approximate the war's South Korean civilian casualties - dead, wounded and missing - at about 1 million people, and North Korean civilian casualties at up to twice that, many of them killed or wounded in the heavy U.S. bombing campaign.

The U.S. Army, in November 1951, cited U.N. figures saying 25,575 South Korean civilians were killed during the communist occupation of South Korea. But the South Korean government later put that toll at 129,000.

As for prisoners of war, the Pentagon eventually calculated that almost 8,000 U.S. military personnel were killed or otherwise died while in the hands of the North Koreans or their Chinese allies.

Prisoners were "beaten, wounded, starved and tortured ... and-or forced to march long distances without benefit of adequate food, water, shelter, clothing or medical care," a U.S. Senate investigative subcommittee said in 1954. It condemned North Korean actions as "heinous and barbaric."

Treatment of prisoners was generally conceded to have improved, however, as the war went on.