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(LEAD) Military opens probe into 1980 crackdown on Gwangju uprising

2017/09/11 11:22

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(ATTN: UPDATES with separate panel on internal reform in last 5 paras)

SEOUL, Sept. 11 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's defense ministry said Monday it has launched a special investigation team to look into the 1980 massacre of pro-democracy protests in Gwangju under the junta of Chun Doo-hwan.

The special committee will focus on allegations that soldiers were ordered to fire at protesters from helicopters and that fighter jets were ready to support the deadly crackdown that left hundreds of people dead, it said.

The probe comes weeks after President Moon Jae-in formally instructed the military to investigate the issue.

Revisiting the historic meaning and value of the May 18 Democratic Uprising is one of the liberal leader's presidential campaign pledges.

The South Korean defense ministry launches a probe into the 1980 military crackdown on a pro-democracy uprising in Gwangju. (Yonhap) The South Korean defense ministry launches a probe into the 1980 military crackdown on a pro-democracy uprising in Gwangju. (Yonhap)

A recent movie titled "A Taxi Driver" has rekindled public interest in the issue. It features a German reporter and the South Korean taxi driver who helped him cover the massacre of civilians.

The probe panel consists of nine civilians, led by Lee Kun-ri, a prosecutor-turned-lawyer. It will be supported by some 30 military officers, prosecutors, police and other government officials for its three-month investigation, which will continue until Nov. 30, according to the Ministry of National Defense.

Handing out certificates of appointment to the nine members of the committee, Defense Minister Song Young-moo said his ministry will actively cooperate with efforts to find the truth behind the Gwangju incident.

The ministry announced that it plans to launch a separate panel later this month as part of its internal reform drive.

The nation's armed forces have come under increased public criticism amid reports of the Cyber Command's suspected meddling in elections and human rights violations against rank-and-file service members.

The envisioned committee will be tasked with selecting specific cases for the ministry to review and address with corrective measures.

Chaired by Kang Ji-won, a well-known human rights lawyer, the committee will include several civilian experts and relevant ministry officials.

"We plan to complete the establishment of the committee and hold its first meeting before the end of September," the ministry said. "It's scheduled to be operated until December, and its mission will be extended if necessary."

   lcd@yna.co.kr

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