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

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land In French Port

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching 'Fortress Europe' More

Video Westgate Mall Attack Survivors Confront Painful Memories

On anniversary of terror attack, survivors discuss how they have coped with trauma they experienced that day More

New Hints That Dark Matter Exists

New evidence from International Space Station hints at existence of dark matter and dark energy More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calaisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 19, 2014 5:04 PM
The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video CERN Accelerator Back in Business

The long upgrade of the Large Hadron Collider is over. The scientific instrument responsible for the discovery of the Higgs boson -- the so-called "God particle" -- is being brought up to speed in time for this month's 60th anniversary of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known by its French acronym CERN. Physicists hope the accelerator will help them uncover more secrets about the origins of the universe. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid