[EDITORIALS]Extend the truth panel

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[EDITORIALS]Extend the truth panel

The project to find out the truth behind the deaths of civilians held in custody by South Korea's authoritarian governments of the past has been stalled because of a conflict within the commission that oversees the project.

The Presidential Truth Commission on Suspicious Deaths was established after years of pressure from the families of the victims. They even camped outside the National Assembly for more than a year. Since October 1999, the commission has reaped some tangible results, such as finding out the truth behind the murders of Professor Tsche Chong-kil of Seoul National University and Jang Joon-ha, editor of Sasanggye magazine, at the hands of government authorities.

But now, with only four months left in the commission's tenure, just 14 of the 83 cases it said it would look into have been resolved.

Looking back, the commission's authority was too limited from the very beginning. It was only equipped with the authority to look into cases and not the authority to summon witnesses and conduct detailed investigations. The prosecution, the police, the National Intelligence Service and the Defense Security Command were all uncooperative.

That uncooperative behavior was most apparent when the Defense Security Command turned down the commission's request for access to documents related to several deaths.

There should be no limits in finding out the truth behind the tragic deaths of innocent civilians. But the families' demand that the law be revised to give the commission the authority to compel testimony appears unproductive given the short period of time remaining for the commission to do its work. The commission should solve its internal problems and focus on its slogan, "Truth and Reconciliation."

Since some victims have died at the hands of law enforcement and intelligence agencies of the past, those agencies should cooperate with the commission and reform themselves. The committee set up to punish Japanese collaborators after Korea's independence in 1945 was dissolved without meaningful results. The truth commission should not meet the same end. If its activities meet with public approval, it should be possible to extend the commission's life.
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