[EDITORIALS]Strange case of Private Heo

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[EDITORIALS]Strange case of Private Heo

The Ministry of National Defense's special investigation bureau, having conducted its own investigation, concluded yesterday that the 1984 death of Private First Class Heo Won-geun was a suicide. The Presidential Truth Commission on Suspicious Deaths had concluded in September that Private Heo was murdered. Two government bodies have presented opposing conclusions and are denouncing each other heatedly. This is a lamentable situation.

The truth commission said Private Heo was killed by an accidental gunshot fired by a drunken noncommissioned officer in the barracks. The death was later disguised as a suicide, the commission said. It still argues that the death was a homicide, disputing the ministry's investigation. The commission has arranged to pay rewards to two soldiers who testified that the death was a homicide.

The ministry's finding of suicide was expectable, ever since it made public an interim investigation report in late October. The ministry has been saying that there was no accidental gunfire. On the day of Private Heo's death, the unit was operating normally, it said. Three gunshots were heard from the waste fuel storage area between 10 and 11 a.m. The ministry investigation team presented the unit members' testimonies, the opinions of forensic specialists and evidence about Private Heo's personality as circumstantial evidence pointing to suicide. The ministry insisted that the truth commission's investigators fabricated testimony and pressured some witnesses to make false statements. It accused the commission of manipulating its on-the-spot inspection.

Only one of the two government bodies is telling the truth. They give the impression that they are trying to discredit each other, instead of seeking the truth. How can the people trust the government agencies? And yet, we cannot stop investigating a death that has been clouded by suspicion for 18 years. The commission must reinvestigate with the new evidence presented by the ministry. Since the noncommissioned officer, who was named as the suspect, filed a slander suit against the commission's members, judicial authorities may be able to get at the truth of this controversial death.
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