South Korean historians have published a controversial list of citizens who supported Japan during its colonial rule before World War II. The list has sparked political debate as South Koreans struggle to make sense of their turbulent history.

The list, released Monday, contains the names of more than 3,000 Japanese collaborators, many of them dead and most of them members of South Korea's political and social elite.

They are accused of voluntarily serving in the often brutal Japanese colonial government, joining the Japanese military, or supporting the regime in other ways. Japan invaded and annexed the Korean peninsula in 1910, and governed until its defeat in World War II in 1945.

On the list is the late President Park Chung-hee, who helped modernize South Korea's economy in the 1970s before being assassinated in 1979. Mr. Park reportedly served as an officer in the Japanese army in the 1940s.

Also included on the list are some of South Korea's best-known novelists, musicians and the founders of leading newspapers and universities.

A private research agency, the Institute for Research in Collaborationist Activities published the list after a six-year investigation.

Park Chan, who helped coordinate the effort, says the project will ultimately catalogue all the people who actively participated in the Japanese occupation.

He says the goal is to correct the historical record and confront a painful chapter in South Korea's past.

But some South Koreans are crying foul.

Opposition groups claim the campaign is being used by President Roh Moo-hyun to discredit his political opponents, including Park Chung-hee's daughter, who leads the opposition conservative Grand National Party.

Her supporters say the list is selective, containing only those names that would embarrass the opposition.

Cho Nam-hyun is a spokesman for the Free Citizens' Alliance of Korea, which opposes the government. Mr. Cho told VOA it is far too late to judge people or their families for actions taken more than 60 years ago, and that the list of names will only fuel political conflict in South Korea when the country should be focusing on improving its economy.

In 1949, South Korea's first president, Syngman Rhee, ended efforts to prosecute Japanese collaborators. At the time, he said, South Korea was not ready to confront the sensitive issue.

Bitter memories of Japan's colonial rule still taint relations between Seoul and Tokyo. For decades, South Korea limited many Japanese imports, and many South Koreans say Japan has yet to fully acknowledge or apologize for its past actions.