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Unidentified human remains found in Gwangju

By Kim Arin

Published : Dec. 22, 2019 - 15:45

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The bones of some 80 people, 40 of them unidentified, were found Thursday at a former prison site in Gwangju, rekindling suspicions that victims of the 1980 military crackdown on democratic protests were buried en masse there by authorities.

A foundation established in memory of the democratic movement, which took place from May 18-27, 1980, has suggested the unidentified human remains may belong to hundreds of protesters who went missing.

In total, 448 missing person reports related to the Gwangju pro-democracy movement had been filed. Only six bodies have been found that have been identified as those of the missing.


Remains of unidentified people were found Thursday at the site of an old Gwangju prison. (Yonhap) Remains of unidentified people were found Thursday at the site of an old Gwangju prison. (Yonhap)

The government launched the first round of search for remains of the missing victims from 2002 to 2009 at nine locations across the city but without success. The search resumed eight years later in 2017, but the operation initially did not extend to the prison graveyard until Dec. 16.

The Justice Ministry said Sunday it would look into possible links between the remains and the violent crackdown of civilians by the military nearly four decades ago.

According to officials, bones of 80 people were excavated from a mass grave for prisoners without any kin. About half of those were found buried 0.2 meter deep, while the other half were found deeper in the ground inside a concrete cellar, measuring 1 meter in width, height and length.

Two skulls with holes of unknown causes and a small skull, possibly that of a child, were found among the remains.

Upon a preliminary survey, a joint committee comprising police, prosecutors and military officials said the remains were likely of people who had died before 1975.

The committee said it will work with the National Forensic Service to identify the remains.

The forensic examination is expected to take about six months.

While the estimated death toll varies, government figures say about 200 civilians were killed in what is commonly referred to as the Gwangju Uprising.

By Kim Arin (arin@heraldcorp.com)