SEOUL — The top US military commander in South Korea apologized Sunday for an incident last week during which US military police handcuffed three South Korean citizens in a dispute over a parking violation, inciting protests from civic groups.
Although local news reports said that vocal, physical protests by the three South Koreans might have contributed to their handcuffing, the sight of US service members manhandling South Koreans was almost guaranteed to be seen as outrageous in South Korea, where the population harbors mixed feelings about the US military presence.
‘‘I am very sorry this occurred,’’ said General James D. Thurman, commander of the 28,500 US troops in South Korea. ‘‘I want to express my sincere apology to the individuals and community affected by the incident.’’
According to South Korean police, US military police officers were patrolling streets outside the US Air Force’s Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek Thursday evening when they ordered a local shop owner to move his vehicle, which they said was illegally parked. In an ensuing dispute, three South Koreans were handcuffed.
The Pyeongtaek police said they were investigating the circumstances, including whether the Americans had the right to enforce parking regulations outside their base. The national news agency, Yonhap, reported the shop owner disputed the Americans’ account that he was trying to run away.
The three South Koreans were being taken to the US base when the South Korean police intervened and secured their release, Yonhap reported.
Thurman said ‘‘the individuals involved have been suspended from their duties pending the outcome of the investigation’’ by South Korean police and the Air Force.