The top US military commander in South Korea apologised on Monday for an alleged handcuffing of South Korean civilians by US soldiers and promised a full investigation after protests by Seoul.
Seven military police officers patrolling areas near the US air base in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, reportedly handcuffed three area residents Thursday after disputes over illegal parking.
The trio -- one of whom was accused of parking his car in a banned area -- were later released after complaints by South Korean police called to the scene, Yonhap news and other media said.
Seoul's foreign ministry described the action as being beyond the authority of the US soldiers, and said it had lodged a "stern protest" in a meeting with US army officials yesterday.
General James Thurman said he was "very sorry" about the incident and said the soldiers involved have been suspended from their duties pending the outcome of a "thorough investigation" that he had directed.
"I want to express my sincere apology to the individuals and community affected by the incident," Thurman said in a statement, vowing to cooperate with a separate probe by the South Korean police.
A total of 28,500 US troops are stationed in the South to help defend it against North Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War.
Crimes or disputes involving the US troops are a sensitive subject in the country, even though many see their presence as necessary to deter an attack by the communist North.