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Probe into May 18 to gain momentum under Moon govt

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Published : 2017-05-18 16:38
Updated : 2017-05-18 18:43

An official state-led investigation into Gwangju’s May 18 Democratization Movement is anticipated to get back on track, after President Moon Jae-in reiterated his commitment to carrying on the spirit of the 1980 civilian uprising.

The first step of the probe will be to figure out who ordered the first firing upon civilians, an investigation which is likely to lead to the then-military commander, former President Chun Doo-hwan.

“There are those who continuously try to distort and devaluate the May (18) movement, which is unacceptable,” the president said during a commemorative speech.

President Moon Jae-in gives a May 18 commemorative speech. (Yonhap)

“The new government will exert further efforts in finding out the truth about that day, including who ordered the first shot from the helicopter.”

His comment referred to the martial army’s initial shooting at civilians, which was followed by a massacre of all those in view, including not only protesters but also pedestrians.

But the actual truth about the disputed first gunfire has long remained a question mark.

“The helicopter gunshot on May 18 was ordered by the then-Army headquarters which was under the control of military powers,” said Gwangju Mayor Yoon Jang-hyun Monday in a press briefing.

“It took us months of looking into military documents and prosecutorial records, as well as interviewing former military officials and civilian witnesses to reach such a conclusion.”

It was former President Chun, army general at the time, who mostly had control over military moves. Chun later became state chief through a coup in September that year.

Testimonies have been made in the past -- in a parliamentary hearing in 1989 and also in a prosecutorial probe in 1995 -- to hold Chun liable over the tragedy but were refuted by the government and by Chun himself.

The Defense Ministry’s claim was that “no corresponding bullet marks” existed to prove the alleged gunfire.

“There was no such thing as an intentional and random massacre of civilians in Gwangju, and the supposed ‘firing command’ never existed at all,” Chun wrote in his memoir, published this year.

But in contrary to such denials, the National Forensic Service found late last year that a bullet mark left on a building proved a set of gunshots came from the level of a helicopter.

“The Defense Ministry is aware of the need to find out the objective truth (about May 18) and shall take the necessary measures based on the National Assembly’s legislation,” ministry spokesperson Moon Sang-kyun said in a briefing Thursday, when asked about the president’s remarks in Gwangju.

Minister Han Min-koo, too, said during a parliamentary hearing in February that he would “fully cooperate,” if the government launches an in-depth investigation into the newly found evidence.

The political circle pledged its cooperation in passing the related laws.

“We shall make efforts in order to reveal the truth on the one who gave orders to fire shots at people and to crack down on them in a violent way,” Democratic Party of Korea spokesperson Kim Hyun said through a statement.

The centrist opposition People’s Party, which has its political stronghold in Gwangju and the surrounding Jeolla provinces, also pledged to pass a special law on the May 18 investigation.

By Bae Hyun-jung (tellme@heraldcorp.com)