[EDITORIALS]Accidents and cover-ups

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[EDITORIALS]Accidents and cover-ups

Private First Class Heo Won-geun, who joined the army during his university school years, was killed by accidental gunfire by a drunken superior officer inside the barracks near the barbed wire at the edge of the east-central Demilitarized Zone. The accident happened at dawn on April 2,1984; Private Heo at the time of his death was 22 years old. The military authorities, however, have said the accidental death was a suicide, committed in despair because of the company commander's cruel treatment. It is shocking to learn that the military's cover-up has been consistent from immediately after the accident until word leaked out about the true story of the incident.

The Presidential Truth Commission on Suspicious Deaths released an interim report on its investigation of the case Tuesday. According to the report, Private Heo was shot and killed at a dinner party celebrating the promotion of a platoon commander in his company; a staff sergeant accidentally fired the round that killed him. There were about 10 people at the scene of the accidental homicide, but the company and battalion commanders decided to disguise the accident as a suicide. The body of Private Heo was moved to a waste oil storage area and two more shots were fired at his body to fabricate a suicide.

It is strange that it was possible for a group as large as this to conceal the truth for such a long time. The military investigators questioned 100 persons in the matter, and the dead soldier was serving ordinary military duty; he had not been forcibly drafted by the authoritarian government. Thus, it seems more than possible that there was a systemic effort in the military to conduct a cover-up.

The Ministry of National Defense must tell us why the original verdict of suicide stood for so long despite many investigations. Any accident is regrettable, but the military can at least keep public trust by thorough investigations. But the military damaged Private Heo's reputation and fueled the rage of the victim's family by disguising the death as a suicide. Other soldiers and their families will be outraged and fearful; the authorities owe Private Heo's family and the public an apology so his accidental death while defending our country is not wasted.
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