Questions on Chun's 1980 crackdown remain unsettled even after ex-dictator's death

장동우 / 2021-11-23 14:01:41
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Gwangju uprising-fact-finding efforts
▲ This photo provided by the May 18 Memorial Foundation shows a standoff between civilians and soldiers during the May 1980 Gwangju uprising in a downtown area of Gwangju, 329 kilometers south of Seoul. (Yonhap)

▲ In this file photo dated Aug. 9, 2021, former President Chun Doo-hwan (C), escorted by security guards, leaves a district court in the southwestern city of Gwangju after attending an appellate trial on the charge of libel. Chun, a general-turned-strongman who seized power through a 1979 military coup and ruthlessly quelled a pro-democracy civil uprising in the city the following year, died on Nov. 23, 2021, aides said. He was 90. (Yonhap)

Gwangju uprising-fact-finding efforts

Questions on Chun's 1980 crackdown remain unsettled even after ex-dictator's death

By Chang Dong-woo

SEOUL, Nov. 23 (Yonhap) -- The painful history surrounding the bloody crackdown of the 1980 Gwangju uprising by late President Chun Doo-hwan remains a topic that has more unresolved questions than answers lingering to this day.

Chun, the former military dictator who seized power through a coup in 1979, died at his home in Seoul on Tuesday. One of his darkest legacies is the deadly crackdown of democracy activists in Gwangju, 329 kilometers south of Seoul, in May 1980, which left more than 200 dead and 1,800 others wounded.

Although the incident took place more than 40 years ago, efforts to uncover the basic facts behind the crackdown have yet to deliver meaningful findings, with many survivors still waiting for a sense of closure of their harrowing experiences.

In 1996, Chun was convicted of treason and sentenced to life in prison in connection with his involvement in using force to crack down on protesters occupying the then South Jeolla provincial government office building.

But the investigation failed to determine who authorized the firings on civilians.

Pending inquiries include identifying who ordered the first reported gun fire on the evening of May 20, 1980, and the first group shooting of protestors in front of the provincial government office building the following day.

Probes searching for the whereabouts of those who went missing during the crackdown also remains a key task, along with that of discovering sites where the military secretly buried dead civilians.

The number of those who were previously recognized by the Gwangu city government as missing during the crackdown was 82. Of those, six victims who had been buried in a grave of unnamed people were identified in 2001.

The military's helicopter gunship attacks on civilian protesters also came to light belatedly in 2018. Past attempts to distort history by military authorities against the 1988 parliamentary inquiry also remain a subject of potential criminal investigation.

Last year, an independent commission was launched to investigate the brutal crackdown based on a special law passed in 2018 but has yet to share meaningful findings or results.

Another point of contention is Chun's denial of all responsibilities connected to the military suppression in his controversial memoir published in 2017. The former dictator was put on trial for allegedly defaming a priest who had testified of witnessing guns being fired by military helicopters in his memoir.


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