695A.0024/1–154: Telegram

The Ambassador in Korea (Briggs) to the Department of State

secret
priority

610. Repeated information Tokyo 361 (pass CINCUNC), New Delhi 39, Munsan-ni by pouch. Re Embassy telegram 6061 and Department telegram 5572 December 31.

[Page 1684]

Following official reception this morning, General Talyor, Young and I had inconclusive but nevertheless useful conversation with President Rhee and Pyun with latter at his unreasonable and argumentative worst. We described operation as primarily head count by Indians for purpose verifying rolls (a necessary function to be completed prior relinquishment responsibility by CFI after January 22) as by-product of which each prisoner had opportunity leave compound, thereby indicating desire be repatriated, following which each case was considered by NNRC before individual certified for repatriation. Out of over 4,000 PWs handled yesterday, 127 had elected repatriation. We emphasized that this was not, as Pyun had alleged, extension of explanation period. Furthermore to our knowledge no force, coercion or persuasion of any kind was being applied by Indians. We also pointed out greatly to advantage of ROK weed out Communist sympathizers before turnback of prisoners begins on January 23, since that will help prevent entry Communist agents into South Korea. We declared operation not only within armistice terms of reference but also consonant with principle of no forcible repatriation for which UNC had fought so steadfastly and long during armistice negotiations.

Rhee argued that since Indians are un-neutral and pro-Communist, process described cannot be fairly handled. Pyun, whose conduct throughout could scarcely have been more offensive, went much further than President in denouncing Indians and threatening ROK force to rescue prisoners from Indian “policemen turned robbers” (see text Pyun public statement telegraphed this morning3). After considerable argument along above line, with no meeting of minds and Pyun increasingly intemperate, President said he desired have ROK military police observing Indian guard procedure at compound gates, since he altogether lacks confidence in Indians and owes it to anti-Communist prisoners to protect them from Indians. General Taylor pointed out numerical limitation on unarmed UN guard personnel in demilitarized zone but offered investigate possibility of having ROK observer when individual cases come before NNRC for final action, following emergence from compound of each individual desiring repatriation. Also offered consider replacing limited number UN guards within demilitarized zone (now unarmed US marines) with ROK personnel who could be stationed near prisoner compounds on south side to observe proceedings. Pyun continued to demand “armed ROK MPs to protect anti-Communist prisoners from Indians”.

Notwithstanding Pyun’s attitude, which was not today expressed by Rhee (although latter’s cold versus Pyun’s hot may of course have been pre-arranged act) we do not anticipate sudden ROK action implementing [Page 1685] Pyun’s threats. On other hand, situation credited by Pyun is far from satisfactory; for example while foregoing discussion taking place, Mrs. Rhee indicated to my wife much concern “at way things going between our two countries”.

We are considering later today with General Lacey, ranking US officer UNCMAC, possibilities mentioned re use ROK guards and observers.

Briggs
  1. In telegram 606, Briggs reported that Pyun called him in a great state of agitation to report that ROK sources stated that the Indians were illegally screening Chinese and North Korean POWs and were on the point of returning 125 to the Communists. Briggs counseled patience, promised to look into the matter, and set up the meeting with Rhee and Pyun described in telegram 610. (695A.0024/12–3153)
  2. In this telegram, the Department of State instructed Briggs to exert a moderating influence on Rhee and Pyun and pointed out that it was not in the interest of the ROK to have pro-Communist POWs in its territory. (695A.0024/12–3153)
  3. Text of this statement was transmitted in telegram 609 from Seoul, Jan. 1, 1954, not printed. (795.00/1–154)