The Korea Times
Moon vows fact-finding for Jeju massacres
President pledges to retrieve remains, compensate victims
President Moon Jae-in pledged Tuesday that the government will make every effort to find the truth behind the Jeju April 3 Massacres including why they happened, as he apologized for the mass killings committed by state-aligned forces amid ideological conflicts following liberation from the 1910-45 Japanese occupation.
Moon attended a ceremony at the 4.3 Peace Park on Jeju Island to mark the 70th anniversary of the start of the massacres, also called the April 3 Incident. This was the first time since 2006 for a president to attend the ceremony, following liberal President Roh Moo-hyun.
In the massacres, about 25,000 to 30,000 islanders, or about 10 percent of the Jeju population, were killed by South Korean troops and police, and volunteer anti-communist youth groups after they boycotted a U.N.-backed general election that contributed to the division of Korea. The massacres started in 1948 when the U.S. Army Military Government ostensibly governed Korea, and continued through South Korean President Syngman Rhee’s election and presidency and the 1950-53 Korean War, finally ending in 1954.
“I, as President, deeply apologize once again for all the pain they had to suffer from state violence,” Moon said in a speech.
He is the second president to apologize and admit state responsibility for the massacres following Roh. Until the late 1990s, it was taboo to openly mention the incident. Roh’s predecessor, Kim Dae-jung, set up a special law for fact-finding about the massacres in 2000, while neither of Moon’s two conservative predecessors, Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye, did so, nor did they attend the annual ceremony.
Moon promised the government would uncover the facts behind the violence to address the grievances of the victims and restore their honor, continue work to retrieve the remains of the missing, provide compensation to survivors and set up a state-run trauma center.
“Resolving the issue completely will become a strong basis for reconciliation, integration, peace and human rights, which not only Jeju residents but also all people of the country wish for,” he said.
Moon said there still are ideological disputes over the massacres and some people refuse to recognize the dark side of history, adding Korea still suffers from hatred and hostility that is a relic of old ideologies. “We have to look at painful history squarely.” He said conservatives and liberals should compete for justice and fairness, and be evaluated according to which side was more just and fair. “If not just and fair, neither conservatives nor liberals, nor any ideological groups will truly serve the people,” the President said.
“Let’s all make efforts to remove hostility, which is the result of ideological conflicts, from all sectors of society and boost human dignity. That’s the lesson Jeju gives us.”
Before the ceremony, he paid respect in front of a stone monument that symbolizes those who went missing during the massacres.
Moon attended last year’s memorial ceremony about a month before the presidential election. He promised he would come back this year as President and elevate its status to a nationwide event. Investigating the massacre was also among his 100 major election pledges.
The ceremony was attended by 15,000 people, including government officials, heads of both ruling and opposition parties, survivors and family members of victims.