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Apology by Chun's widow not meant for Gwangju massacre victims

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Lee Soon-ja, center, the widow of Chun Doo-hwan, and other bereaved family members enter the Seoul Memorial Park to attend Chun's cremation ceremony, Saturday. Yonhap
Lee Soon-ja, center, the widow of Chun Doo-hwan, and other bereaved family members enter the Seoul Memorial Park to attend Chun's cremation ceremony, Saturday. Yonhap

By Lee Hae-rin

The apology by the widow of Chun Doo-hwan for past wrongdoings inflicted by the former dictator has only refueled the anger of victims of the bloody suppression of the 1980 Gwangju pro-democracy movement, as Chun's side made it clear that the massacre was not subject to the apology.

Former first lady Lee Soon-ja made the apology during Chun's funeral in Seoul, Saturday, four days after he died of a type of blood cancer. The former Army general, who seized power through a military coup in 1979 and served as president from September 1980 to February 1988, was responsible for the brutal suppression of Gwangju citizens but went to his grave without ever making an admission of guilt or an apology.

In a speech as a family representative, Lee said, "On behalf of my husband, I would like to deeply apologize, especially to those who suffered pains and scars during his time in office."

Lee's apology was initially assumed to be for the victims killed in the May 1980 uprising. But civic groups related to the movement, including those of bereaved families, criticized it for being vague and incomplete, saying they couldn't accept the apology.

Then Chun's former secretary Min Jeong-ki told local reporters that Lee was not talking about Gwangju.

"Lee clearly said 'during his time in office,'" Min told reporters hours after Lee's remark, at Seoul Memorial Park where the cremation took place. He explained that the Gwangju incident took place before his presidency, which officially began on Sept. 1, 1980.

When asked to specify "those who suffered pains and scars," Min replied, "There are students who participated in (other) pro-democracy protests and died during torture by police (during Chun's term) … He was not directly responsible but he was the president anyway."

In light of this, the civic groups said Lee's apology was even more meaningless and only worsened their pain.

"It seems Lee made the apology reluctantly and unwillingly because of the growing public criticism," Choi Hyung-ho, the head of Seoul branch of The May 18 Memorial Foundation, told The Korea Times, Sunday. "A truthful apology would require Chun's family coming to and kneeling at the victims' graveyard."

Choi said what matters the most is the uncovering the whole truth about the movement, such as whether Chun ordered the shooting from military helicopters on citizens ― which Chun kept denying despite witnesses coming forward and forensic evidence of bullet holes high up in buildings and patients admitted to hospitals with injuries consistent with being shot from above. "Also a relevant law should be revised to recover assets accumulated illegally by Chun's aides during his term," he said.
Lee Hae-rin lhr@koreatimes.co.kr


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