News / Asia

Some South Korean Ferry Mourners Ready to Move On

South Koreans march during a rally 100 days after the ferry Sewol sunk in Seoul, South Korea, July 24, 2014.
South Koreans march during a rally 100 days after the ferry Sewol sunk in Seoul, South Korea, July 24, 2014.
Reuters

A man whose 17-year-old child was killed in the April sinking of a South Korean ferry, the country's worst maritime accident in decades, said he is ready to move on, tired of the political wrangling and mud-slinging four months after disaster struck.

But his nerves were on edge. He didn't want his name used and was wary of being overheard while taking a cigarette break during a meeting of grieving families. 

“Everyone is getting exhausted. Most of us like me want to see some kind of closure,” he said on Wednesday night in Ansan, the working class city southwest of Seoul where most of those killed in the disaster had been pupils at Danwon High School.

Families who lost loved ones in the tragedy are demanding accountability from the government, but many have grown weary of strident activists adopting their cause for political ends. 

The overloaded Sewol capsized and sank on a routine voyage that killed about 300 people, most of them children from the same school, causing an outpouring of grief as well as outrage at President Park Geun-hye's conservative government for what was widely seen as a botched rescue operation.

Four months later, the tragedy is so politically charged that Pope Francis had to answer for wearing a yellow ribbon in support of the victims during his visit to Seoul. 

Some family members have tired of the political to-and-fro over proposed legislation to create an independent investigative committee with the right to prosecute. The People's Committee for the Sewol Ferry Tragedy, which supports mourning families, consists of more than 800 civic groups, many of them already critics of Park.

Another father of a victim said some family members did not want left-wing activists helping them, as it compromised their political neutrality. 

“Some of us didn't want to mingle with them, but at that time we were office workers who didn't know how to speak up for ourselves,” he said. “So I thought we needed their support.”

The mother of a victim, who declined to be identified outside the meeting in Ansan, said she had had no choice but to defer to those championing their cause. 

“It is somewhat burdensome that those civic groups are helping us and some people [not tied to the disaster] speak ill of us. But as a mother who lost her child, I have no choice but to follow people who are active in our group because they are doing something that I can't do,” she said.

At Wednesday's meeting in Ansan, households backed their initial position calling for an investigative committee, with 132 out of 176 voting to stick with that demand, rejecting for the second time a bipartisan compromise reached by the country's two main political parties. 

'I have a headache'

At a makeshift camp of victims' supporters in the center of Seoul, a father had been on hunger strike but many of more than 100 people gathered on a morning this week appeared to be left-wing activists. 

Among the posters and banners at the protest site, one says: “Why is the [presidential] Blue House trying to kill Yu-min's father? President Park Geun-hye, come out and take responsibility!”

Activists have rallied around Yu-min's father, Kim Young-oh, 47, who lost his 16-year-old daughter in the disaster and was fasting, living off water and salt, before being taken to a hospital on Friday, the 40th day of his hunger strike. 

“I have a headache. I have a headache because of politicians in South Korea,” Kim said on Wednesday after the leader of the main opposition party visited him after the latest attempt at legislation to investigate the disaster fell short of what many of the victims' families have been demanding.

“We want to find why more than 300 people died unfairly. We want to clarify this and hold a person in charge accountable,” said Kim, who handed a letter to Pope Francis on Saturday before a massive open-air Mass in Seoul.

Politically polarized

South Korea, after decades of armed standoff with the reclusive, nuclear-armed North and entrenched regionalism, has long been politically polarized. Protest groups and demonstrators, and a heavy police presence, are a staple of everyday life in downtown Seoul, and some among the ferry families' victims and their supporters have complained of overzealous treatment by police. 

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, one of the country's largest labor groups and known to take up causes beyond workers' rights, is among those supporting the families.

“Aside from the differences between opposing parties, there is a public consensus into building a safer society. We just want an independent investigation into what happened, but are accused of politicizing it ... it's become politically distorted,” said confederation spokesman Park Sung-shik. 

Kim Hong-cheol, director general of the Citizens' Movement for Environmental Justice, another backer of the families, said it joined the cause because it supports safety and security and bemoaned the political wrangling.

“It is just a simple request of those distraught parents who want to know why their children died. There is nothing political about that,” he said.

The pope, meanwhile, was asked during his return flight to Rome this week about the yellow ribbon he wore in support of the ferry victims.

“I took this ribbon ... out of solidarity with them, and after half a day someone came close to me and said: 'It is better (you) remove it, you should be neutral,”' he said.

“But listen, one cannot be neutral about human pain. I responded in that way. That's how I felt.” 

You May Like

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More