President Moon Jae-in assured Jeju residents Friday that his administration would make every possible effort to legislate compensation for the victims and bereaved families of the April 3 massacre there seven decades ago.
He was addressing an annual ceremony to commemorate the tragic incident, during which tens of thousands of civilians were killed by the authorities in a yearslong bloody crackdown on the southern island. They were protesting against US military-led rule following Korea's liberation from the 1910-1945 colonial rule of Japan. The authorities labeled them as pro-communist forces amid a sharp ideological divide at that time.
Moon said the historical issue remains unresolved.
"A revision bill on the April 3 Incident, meant to serve as a basis for a complete resolution, is still pending at the National Assembly," he pointed out in his televised speech.
The government will "continue efforts for substantive compensation to be realized as basic justice," he added.
The president urged lawmakers and politicians to pay "special heed" and provide support with regard to the matter.
"Along with efforts for the legislation, the government will swiftly do what it can," he added.
The revision bill, submitted in late 2017, calls for reparations for the victims and their families, the recovery of their honor and additional investigation into the truth behind the incident.
He noted that this year's anniversary came as South Koreans are going through a "very grave and tough period" in the face of the coronavirus outbreak.
The power of "solidarity and cooperation" has made them stronger in the crisis, he said.
Moon, a former human right lawyer, emphasized such common values as reconciliation, coprosperity, peace and human rights.
"Resolving the April 3 Incident is not a matter of politics and ideology at all," he said. "It's a matter of common sense and a humane attitude sympathizing with the pain of neighbors and respecting people."
The path toward justice and reconciliation involves settling the "wrong past" and healing the remaining scars, Moon said.
He added the April 3 incident was not just sad for Jeju but also represents major suffering in modern Korean history.
Major political parties shared the solemn commemorative mood less than two weeks before the parliamentary elections. They agreed on the need to heal the wounds of the tragic incident.
But they sparred, as usual, over responsibility for the long-overdue passage of the bill.
"Regrettably, it's attributable to longstanding opposition and lack of cooperation by the United Future Party," said Rep. Lee In-young, floor leader of the liberal ruling Democratic Party, on a visit to Jeju for the event.
He said his party would make all-out efforts to revise the legislation in April or May before the tenure of the current parliament ends.
Rep. Shim Jae-chul, floor leader of the conservative main opposition party, said the government and the ruling party are not enthusiastic about passing the bill.
"In particular, there are divergent views in the government," he said, calling on the ruling bloc to stop blaming his party for the stalemate.
The government, meanwhile, scaled down the official ceremony at the Jeju April 3 Peace Park in consideration of quarantine measures.
Moon attended the ceremony in 2018 for the first time since he took office. Last year, then Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon was present on behalf of Moon. (Yonhap)