Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Findings on the Silmido incident

In my previous post I talked about the December 19th report made by the committee examining Defense Department records in order to investigate dark events from Korea's recent past. In that post I covered the (interim) report they had made on the Nokhwa program carried out under Chun Doo-hwan. In this post (almost two weeks later) I'll look at the revelations about the Silmido incident which came to light then.

Silmido is known for the film released two years ago based on the events which culminated on August 23, 1971; the film's production company has a website here which provides the basic details, as well as a timeline. As is well known from the film, the South Korean military secretly trained agents on Silmido, a small islet just southwest of what is now Incheon Airport, to assassinate Kim Il-sung in revenge for the North Korean commando attack on the Blue House in January 1968. When the mission was canceled, 24 escaped from the island to confront the president, and the four who survived were executed the next year.

The Chosun Ilbo reported on the findings of the committee:

[The] camp on Silmi Island where soldiers were abandoned in training to infiltrate North Korea was set up in 1968 at the orders of the Agency of National Security Planning, the precursor of the National Intelligence Service, and managed by the Air Force.

The panel revealed that the bodies of 20 of the soldiers, who were officially reported to have died while escaping from Silmi Island west of Incheon, were hastily buried in a city cemetery in Byeokje, Gyeonggi Province without telling their families. Another 19 bodies believed to have been members of the unit were also recently found, and the panel commissioned DNA tests on them.

Seeing as the main goals of this investigative committee regarding the Silmido incident were to discover how they were recruited, who they were, and where they were buried, they seem to be accomplishing these modest goals.

Though only Nokwha and Silmido were reported on, the committee is also investigating the Kwangju Uprising and the Samcheong labour camps. The Samcheong program is also mentioned in a Korea Times article from November 13, about a meeting between Uri Party members and the government, regarding possible compensation by the government for past state crimes; as is not too difficult to tell, all of these investigations being done by various government agencies are related and it would seem the government has been considering what steps to take once the investigations are finished. While the victims of crimes carried out in the latter part of Park Chung-hee's reign and under Chun Doo-hwan seem to be eligible for compensation, Korean War victims, it would seem, are not:
The government had been considering either giving individual compensation or providing a comprehensive solution to the victims. It is estimated that more than 200,000 civilians were massacred by soldiers, police and right-wing vigilantes around the three-year war and received undue damages during South Korea's past militaristic rule.

In a closed-door meeting Friday, the government and Uri Party agreed to restore the honor of the victims by uncovering details of incidents or by setting up a memorial tower or centers, as well as unearthing victims' remains.

Individual compensation has been ruled out from a lack of government budget and difficulty in determining the victims and setting up an appropriate level of compensation.

I would imagine the term "around the three-year war" refers to the 1948-50 period, which saw, among other things, the deaths of perhaps 30,000 people on Jeju Island. While I think episodes like the Jeju uprising (where massacres were primarily carried out by soldiers, police, or right-wing vigilantes associated with them) should be examined, there are also many crimes carried out by leftists at this time, which, while they do not fall within the Korean government's responsibility, should also be looked into. The current government gets a lot of flack for being partisan in its review of history. While in some ways this is inevitable (as it was a right-wing, anti-communist state carrying out crimes against its people, so the victims were overwhelmingly leftists), the early years of the South Korean state featured violence perpetrated by both sides, and I can only hope a review would examine all of the atrocities, and not just those that serve an narrow, ideological purpose. Of course, the Jeju uprising perhaps is not the best example, at least in regards to crimes the South Korean state is reponsible for; the first four months of the uprising occurred under the US Military Government, and during the latter part of the uprising (continuing until the spring of 1949), after the Republic of Korea came into existence, its army was, due to a secret agreement, under the control of the US military (until they left Korea in June 1949).