[EDITORIALS]Questions for truth panel

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[EDITORIALS]Questions for truth panel

A local newspaper has questioned the interim announcement by the Presidential Truth Commission On Suspicious Deaths that the Korean military may have covered up a soldier's death as a suicide. The fact-finding panel said the killing of Private First Class Heo Won-geun by his superior had been methodically concealed for 18 years. It said a sergeant, on a rampage with an M16 rifle under the influence of alcohol, shot Private Heo to death in their barracks in Hwacheon, Gangwon province, at dawn on April 2, 1984. The body was taken to a storage house for lubricant wastes, and two more bullets were fired into it to disguise the manslaughter as a suicide, the panel said.

The Chosun Ilbo challenged this account. It reported Wednesday that it had interviewed 9 of 13 other soldiers who were in the barracks at the time, and all of them said there were no organized attempts to cover up the incident. The daily also quoted the sergeant as denying having shot Private Heo. The investigation commission dismissed the article as "not even worthy of considering," adding that the panel would announce a final conclusion after an on-site investigation Sunday.

We do not have enough evidence to say which of the two arguments is closer to what really happened that day. But the commission, whose job is to shed light on the truth about wrongful deaths during the days of authoritarian rule, must make a strictly fair conclusion that will not raise further questions. It must explain how and why its announcement, albeit interim, faced a challenge within days of its making. It must find out whether the incident was a murder or a suicide. If it is found to have been a murder, then the commission can find out who was the culprit and why and how the incident was manipulated and covered up for so long.

The panel should consider a joint investigation with a task force of the Ministry of National Defense. The least that the truth commission can do for the victims is to get to the truth.

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