President Moon Jae-in ordered his defense chief Wednesday to launch a special probe into a military crackdown against the 1980 pro-democracy protests in Gwangju, specifically to verify whether the then military junta considered a possible air strike.
"President Moon today ordered Defense Minister Song Young-moo to launch a special probe regarding recent media reports that an order had been delivered to put Air Force fighter jets on standby for a sortie toward Gwangju and that (military) helicopters opened fire toward a building (in Gwangju)," Park Soo-hyun, a spokesman for the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae, told a press briefing.
The fresh allegations, if confirmed, will likely add to the misdeeds of former President and dictator Chun Doo-hwan, who came to power through a military coup in late 1979.
Chun has already been convicted of ordering an armed crackdown on thousands of democratic protesters in Gwangju, located some 330 kilometers southwest of Seoul, that left hundreds killed and thousands of others injured.
The former dictator, however, has refused to admit his responsibility. In his autobiography, released in April, Chun again denied ordering the crackdown, while labeling the 1980 uprising a riot.
A local court placed an injunction against the sale of Chun's book earlier this month, noting the book had distorted the accounts of facts and history.
The Ministry of National Defense said it will soon create a task force to implement the president's instructions.
"We will form a special investigation team and conduct a special probe as soon as possible," the ministry's spokesman Moon Sang-kyun said in a statement.
If related civic groups request participation in the probe, he added, the ministry will "actively accept" the offer.
He said the ministry will do its best to find the truth behind the allegations through thorough investigation.
Interpreting the historic event is a sensitive issue in the country. A recent movie, titled "A Taxi Driver," has rekindled keen public attention to the incident.
The film is about a German reporter and the South Korean taxi driver who helped him cover the massacre against civilians. (Yonhap)