News / Asia

Defectors Say North Stirred 1980 South Korea Unrest

A woman in a traditional Korean Hanbok costume sits in front of South Korean soldiers at Namsangol Hanok Village in Seoul, May 20, 2013.
A woman in a traditional Korean Hanbok costume sits in front of South Korean soldiers at Namsangol Hanok Village in Seoul, May 20, 2013.
As South Korea marks the 33rd anniversary of a citizen's uprising, there are questions about whether North Korea secretly attempted to stir social turmoil at the time.  

A former commander of U.S. Forces Korea, retired Army General John Wickham, Jr., says it is “plausible” North Korea may have tried to take advantage of unrest in the South during the 1980 uprising, but that he never saw evidence of that.

Wickham, who subsequently served as U.S. Army chief of staff, recalls that he and then-U.S. Ambassador William Gleysteen had “limited intelligence on sources of unrest and activity” in Gwangju, but “We did conclude that the unrest and uprising was South Korean and related to the ongoing coup” by General Chun Doo-hwan amid the turmoil following the assassination of strongman president Park Chung-hee,the father of South Korea's current president, Park Geun-hye.

A citizen's resistance movement in the southwestern city was brutally suppressed by South Korean paratroopers in May 1980, but historians believe it sparked the national democracy movement which, in 1987, led to the first direct presidential election in 16 years.

Twenty-five thousand soldiers were dispatched during the crackdown and more than 200 people died or have never been accounted for.

Most of the casualties were civilians, but soldiers and police also were killed. Some groups have contended the citizen death toll was actually between 1,000 and 2,000.

In recent days, amid the incident's 33rd anniversary, controversy, which has lingered in Gwangju, re-emerged after two cable television news channels aired interviews with North Korean defectors claiming Pyongyang's involvement.

The two stations, Channel A and TV Chosun, separately owned by conservative newspapers, reported that North Korean agents masquerading as South Koreans intended to create social turmoil and bring about the collapse of the government in Seoul.

“A battalion composed of 600 North Korean soldiers penetrated” [into Gwangju]," said a man identified as Im Cheon-yong on a May 13 TV Chosun broadcast. “It was North Korean guerillas who occupied the South Jeolla Provincial Office at the time.”

Im is described as a former North Korean military officer of a special forces unit involved in the uprising.

Two days later, another defector who, unlike Im, appeared with his face blurred and used a pseudonym on Channel A, claimed to be one of the North Korean special forces soldiers who arrived on shore near Gwangju by ship on May 21, 1980.

“We pretended to be Gwangju civilian forces and even attacked the South’s government forces together,” said the man, who used the name of Kim Myeong-guk. “Among the North Korean soldiers who participated in the uprising, some were later promoted to be generals.”

Professor of political science at Yonsei University, Moon Chung-in, a former ambassador and prolific scholar on Korean affairs, calls the assertions “really silly and more than counter-productive” in settling the painful historical legacy.

Official South Korean records do not point to involvement of or infiltration by North Korean agents into Gwangju.

But the fresh allegations seem credible to some, and not only on the far right in South Korea.

“I totally believe it,” says a former U.S. National Security Council staff member with ties to the intelligence community.

The regional specialist points to repeated infiltration by North Korean agents in the decades following the Korean War. Although even he does not see North Korea as the catalyst for the 1980 uprising, which was a grassroots mass movement among those angered by a growing military presence in their cities.

Allegations of possible North Korean involvement in the citizens' movement were initially raised in 1980 by the administration of Chun,who assumed the presidency in September 1980.

Chun was sentenced to death in 1996 for his role in lethally suppressing the Gwangju uprising, but was subsequently pardoned.

The anniversary of the beginning of the siege, May 18, is marked as a somber public holiday in South Korea.

The semi-official Yonhap news agency reports the Gwangju municipal government is vowing to file criminal and civil complaints against anyone, including conservative organizations, Internet users or media outlets, who attempt to distort the legacy of the 1980 civil uprising.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

You May Like

Photogallery Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving With Feasts, Festivities

Holiday traditions include turkey dinners, 'turkey trots,' American-style football and New York parade with giant balloons More

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

With two years left in term, analysts say, president has less to lose by taking conversation on race further More

Video Italian Espresso Expands Into Space

When Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti headed for the ISS, her countrymen worried how she would survive six months drinking only instant coffee More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: gig24
May 21, 2013 11:10 PM
What a disgrace,making rank by dishonesty.Now a general for kju ,Mr DogPoo,his dear leader. Look, General,resp. agent:Even,if you set a bullet through KJU's head tomorrow,you are not of sound character, thug killed other thug,that's all.You still would continue the uranium-goldmining gulags ,yoou'd continue to steal the NK People everything they own,incl. their freedom,their health and lives.I have no respect for YOU.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violencei
X
Lenny Ruvaga
November 27, 2014 7:05 PM
The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violence

The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

Throughout the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, President Barack Obama has urged calm, restraint and respect for the rule of law. But the events in Ferguson have prompted him to call — more openly than he has before — for profound changes to end the racism and distrust that he believes still exists between whites and blacks in the United States. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Online Magazine Gets Kids Discussing Big Questions

Teen culture in America is often criticized for being superficial. But an online magazine has been encouraging some teenagers to explore deeper issues, and rewarding their efforts. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky went to this year’s Kidspirit awards ceremony in New York.
Video

Video US Community Kicks Off Thanksgiving With Parade

Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday whose roots go back to the country's earliest days as a British colony. One way Americans celebrate the occasion is with parades. Anush Avetisyan takes us to one such event on the day before Thanksgiving near Washington, where a community's diversity is on display. Joy Wagner narrates
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid