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Moon orders probe on Gwangju

JTBC report alleges that fighter jet pilots were poised to attack
Aug 23,2017
President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday instructed Defense Minister Song Young-moo to conduct a special investigation into whether the Air Force had a fleet of fighter jets on standby ready to fly to Gwangju to drop bombs on protesters during the democracy uprising in May 1980.

Moon’s order came two days after JTBC, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, exclusively reported Monday that pilots were placed on a standby with their fighter jets loaded with air-to-ground bombs right after the uprising began on May 18, 1980 against the Chun Doo Hwan military junta, which took control of the government six months earlier.

The president ordered another special investigation into the military’s alleged use of a helicopter and the firing of a machine gun from the chopper into a building during the 10-day revolt in the streets of the southwestern city 290 kilometers (180 miles) south of Seoul.

In response to the order, the Defense Ministry said it will form a special committee to investigate its own deeds done to the people of Gwangju.

In its report, JTBC interviewed an Air Force veteran who said he and his colleagues were placed on standby with Gwangju designated as a flight destination on May 21 and 22 from their Air Force base in Suwon, Gyeonggi.

The order to fly and drop unguided air-to-ground Mark 82 bombs on the city did not materialize.
The veteran, who was only identified by his surname Kim, said his fighter jet was never armed with air-to-ground bombs over a 10-year career prior to those days in 1980.

During his presidential campaign, Moon vowed to enshrine the spirit of the Gwangju movement — and its role in bringing democracy to Korea — in the Constitution, which has not been amended since 1987.

The crackdown on the Gwangju uprising resulted in the deaths of more than 150 people.
Far-right conservatives still maintain that the Gwangju protest was orchestrated by North Korea or its sympathizers and that the government’s bloody crackdown was needed to restore order and a rule of law.

The May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement is the official term for the 10-day uprising against the Chun Doo Hwan leadership from May 18, 1980, when students from Chonnam National University staged a protest calling for democracy.

The following day, the Chun leadership dispatched special forces to Gwangju, who opened fire on protesters and deployed brutal tactics such as beatings to crush the demonstration. In response, the protesters broke into police stations, acquired weapons and took control of the city by seizing the South Jeolla provincial headquarters.

The protesters’ control of the city, however, didn’t last long. The Chun government dispatched military forces in the wee hours of May 27, sending tanks, helicopters and special forces to retake control.

It only took two hours for the military to complete its mission. According to the May 18 Memorial Foundation, 154 were killed during the 10-day uprising or after from injuries sustained. Seventy people are recognized as missing, probably buried in anonymous graves.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinyku@joongang.co.kr]