Thu, Nov 08, 2018 - Page 6 News List

South Korea apologizes for rapes by troops in 1980

SILENCE BROKEN:The minister of national defense issued a public apology for the ‘unspeakable, deep scars and pain’ inflicted on women during the Gwangju Uprising

AFP, SEOUL

South Korean Minister of National Defense Jeong Kyeong-doo bows before giving a news conference in Seoul yesterday to apologize for sexual assaults by troops during a 1980 crackdown on a democratization movement in Gwangju.

Photo: EPA-EFE

The South Korean Ministry of National Defense yesterday broke decades of silence to apologize for martial law troops raping women including teenagers when they crushed a pro-democracy uprising in 1980.

South Korean Minister of National Defense Jeong Kyeong-doo issued a public apology for the inflicting of “unspeakable, deep scars and pain” on “innocent women” who were raped and subjected to “sex torture” by soldiers cracking down on protests from May 18 to 27, 1980, against a military coup by General Chun Doo-hwan.

Citizens in the southern city of Gwangju stole arms from police stations and military armories so that they could come to the aid of local university students who had been demonstrating against Chun and the martial law government, and were part of the crackdown by government troops.

Demonstrators, citizens and passers-by were beaten to death, tortured, bayonetted and disemboweled, or riddled with bullets.

Conservatives in the south continue to condemn the Gwangju Uprising — alternatively called the May 18 Democratic Uprising — as a communist-inspired rebellion.

According to official figures, more than 200 people were left dead or missing, while advocates say that the toll might have been three times as much.

Chun’s troops were believed to have also carried out widespread sexual assaults against women, but the issue has long been swept under the carpet as traumatized victims remained reluctant to come forward.

The mood changed following the election of liberal South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who made uncovering the truth about Gwangju a campaign issue, and when one of the victims was emboldened by South Korea’s growing MeToo movement.

Protestor Kim Sun-ok in May told a television interviewer that she had been raped by an interrogator in 1980, prompting authorities to launch an investigation that confirmed 17 cases.

“The investigation has confirmed rapes, sexual assaults and sex tortures were committed by martial law troops,” Jeong said in a statement.

Victims included teenagers and young women, including “young students and a pregnant woman who were not even taking part in the protests,” he told a news conference.

“On behalf of the government and military, I bow deeply and offer my words of apology for the unspeakable, deep scars and pain inflicted on innocent victims,” Jeong said.

However, Kim rejected the apology.

“I didn’t listen to it because of my traumatic experience,” she told reporters.

“Unless those responsible are brought to justice and duly punished, a million apologies would be meaningless,” she added.

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