November 1, 2011 / 12:31 PM / in 6 years

U.S. soldier sentenced to 10 years in South Korea rape case

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Protesters stage a rally denouncing the crime of U.S. soldiers near the U.S. Embassy in Seoul November 1, 2011. The banner reads, "U.S. President Barack Obama! Apologize directly!"Choi Dong-Joon/Newsis

SEOUL (Reuters) - A South Korean court on Tuesday sentenced a U.S. Army private to 10 years in prison for sexually assaulting a local teenage girl in one of the heaviest punishments handed to an American serviceman stationed on the divided peninsula.

The case has received active coverage by the local media since the initial news reports and the U.S. military pledged cooperation with South Korean authorities on the investigation.

In 2002, the deaths of two schools girls hit by a U.S. military vehicle conducting exercises and the subsequent acquittal of U.S. soldiers involved in a U.S. court martial led to a massive public outcry and an outpouring of anti-American sentiment in South Korea.

The Uijeongbu District Court said in a sentence that the severity of the crime committed against the victim allowed for the full term as laid out in the sentencing guideline, adding that the status of the defendant did not affect its decision.

The United States has about 28,000 troops in South Korea in the allies' defense against North Korea, which was accused of mounting two attacks against its southern neighbor last year that killed 50 people. The South has about 650,000 active force soldiers.

The private in the 2nd U.S. Infantry Division had been indicted in September on charges of sexually assaulting the 18-year-old girl in the frontline area about 35 km (22 miles) north of Seoul where the U.S. military maintains a heavy presence.

The court declined to release the name of the soldier pending the filing of any appeal by the defendant. A 2nd Infantry Division private affairs officer reached by telephone could not immediately comment whether the soldier would appeal.

Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Yoko Nishikawa

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