S. Korean junta punished civilians with military camp in early 1980s: report

Posted on : 2006-11-11 16:50 KST Modified on : 2006-11-11 16:50 KST

South Korea's military junta detained tens of thousands of civilians in a military camp in the early 1980s as part of its attempts to keep an iron grip on the country, a government report confirmed Friday.

The revelation from the Defense Ministry was part of on-going government efforts to divulge past misdeeds committed by the nation's former military regimes and compensate victims.

The extensive probe began in January last year, also including allegations of civilian killings during the 1950-53 Korean War and a spy unit organized to infiltrate North Korea.

According to the ministry report, general-turned-president Chun Doo-hwan detained nearly 40,000 civilians in the Samcheong Training Camp in a bid to buttress his new-born regime. During its operation from August 1980 to January the following year, the military center served as a prison camp for potential rebels and critics, many of whom happened to be civilians without a criminal record, it said.

"The new military junta promoted the so-called 'social purification' project on the pretext of reforming society, and the Samcheong Training Camp was part of this," the report said.

Chun gained power through a military coup in December 1979 shortly after the assassination of President Park Chung-hee by his intelligence aide. In an effort to tighten its grip on power, the young government purged political rivals, forced news organizations to close and conducted an extensive crackdown on critics.

The regime promoted the Samcheong camp as a re-educational center for gangsters and criminals aimed at restoring social order.

Under the "gangster mop-up plan," about 800,000 troops and police officers were dispatched to arrest suspects. The intensive inspection led to the arrest of 60,755 people without a court warrant, the report said.

The detainees were then classified into four groups according to the gravity of their allegations. The most severe cases were labeled Group A, with some 3,252 people being transferred to a military court. Groups C and D were dismissed after receiving "purifying education" or providing physical labor. The remaining 39,742 people, kown as Group B, were sent to the Samcheong camp. The report suggested that their arrests were made in a reckless and groundless manner. Nearly 40 percent of those sent to Samcheong had no criminal record, refuting the government claim at that time that they were gangsters. The detainees included 980 students, at least 17 of them middle school students, and 319 women.

The detainees at Samcheong were forced to endure harsh labor and dangerous military training or face the risk of being physically assaulted, the report said. Their training period spanned two to three weeks.

The harsh training led to the death of 54 people, it said. The reasons for their death were listed as suicide or illness, but the investigation suggested that physical assualt was the likely cause.

The victims' association claimed that the Samcheong camp operated a cremation facility alongside the Hantan River, some 100 kilometers north of Seoul, to handle more than 54 bodies. But the ministry said it could not confirm the existence of the cremation facility through this investigation.

Even after their release, the government transferred their personal records to the police, who freely circulated them for investigation of criminal cases until 1988.

The Samcheong case was put to a public debate after the civil government was sworn in during the 1990s, and the victims were requested to file for compensation in recent years.

Among the 39,742 victims, however, the ministry said that only 11.6 percent or 4,644 people filed for compensation.

"Concerning the low rate, we suspect that many of the victims or their families could not register their cases because they have died or they are too old or too poor to know the compensation measure, or they want to avoid having their past ties to the Samcheong training camp revealed," the ministry's investigation team explained in the report.
Seoul, Nov. 10 (Yonhap News)

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