[OUTLOOK]Aung San attack needs scrutiny

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[OUTLOOK]Aung San attack needs scrutiny

The year 2003 is not only a symbolic year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Korea and the United States, it is also the 20th anniversary of the terrorist bombing at the Aung San National Cemetery of Burma in 1983.
Although it is recorded as among the deadliest terrorist attack on Koreans in history, it has received no special discussion or public attention. We need to reflect on why most people, and the government, have not attempted to remember the Aung San disaster.
On Oct. 9, 1983, members of then-President Chun Doo Hwan’s delegation suffered a horrendous terrorist attack. During their visit to the Aung San National Cemetery in Rangoon (now called Yangon), the capital city of Burma (now called Myanmar), North Korean agents exploded hidden bombs by remote control.
Seventeen officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Seo Suk-joon, were killed, and 14 were injured. The Burmese government discovered that the terrorist attack was committed by special North Korean agents in the North Korean People’s Army.
Some may say that as North-South relations are gradually developing, with the North-South summit talks in June 2000 marking a turning point, dredging up a 20-year-old incident is unnecessary and unproductive for North-South relations, although the attack was staged by North Korea.
Even more surprisingly, some, if not many, also believe the South Korean government was behind both the Aung San bombing and the bomb attack on the KAL plane in 1987.
The Aung San bombing will be remembered as the representative incident for Koreans among the numerous terrorist attacks in the 20th century, but what is more important is the lessons it offers. The event teaches us that however hard we try to avoid the truth, we can never deny historic reality.
We have to think again about how future generations will evaluate us if we avoid discussing the Aung San disaster, the KAL explosion, the North Korean human rights abuses and our prisoners of war because we are afraid of provoking the North.
Just a few days ago, President Roh Moo-hyun apologized as the head of the state for the April 3d Massacre of Jeju Province in an attempt to unify people. There are clearly pros and cons of his apology, but we cannot object to a more exact understanding of distorted history.
Who will, then, apologize to the bereaved families of those who were sacrificed at the Aung San Cemetery 20 years ago, and who will take historic responsibility for the incident?
The right thing to do would be to use the unhappy past as a stepping stone and sublimate it into a better future. For this reason, we need to at least take a look at how far our comprehensive follow-up measures have been carried out regarding failures of intelligence ― another lesson we must learn from the Aung San disaster.
The incident was the result of critical errors in information gathering and a poor crisis management system. The Aung San incident is not the only case where such failures have occurred, but we must question how strong and systematic our government’s anti-terror efforts have become in the past 20 years.
As the attacks in New York and Washington, D.C, on Sept. 11, 2001, and in Bali on Oct. 12, 2002, prove, it is not possible to stop terrorists all the time. Nevertheless, we can enforce preventive measures such as strengthening our early warning capability, modernizing our crisis management system, arranging prompt exchanges of information with allies and related countries, and acquiring accurate information on super-national or multi-national terrorist groups.
These measures may not prevent terrorist attacks completely, but they will minimize the damage and increase the possibility of preventing such tragedies.
As a part of the reinforcement of anti-terrorism measures, the government submitted the first Anti-Terrorism Act in November 2001. Due to the possible infringement of human rights, it has already presented an amendment to the National Assembly.
The Intelligence Committee of the Assembly is now deliberating on the proposed act, including opening public hearings and coordinating opinions between related government departments.
The law would install a “National Anti-Terrorism Council” headed by the prime minister directly under the president and establish an “Anti-Terrorism Center” under the director of the National Intelligence Service.
The committee is collecting various opinions and is waiting for the final decision of the Assembly. Because there are people who oppose the bill, the committee needs to handle the act prudently. But I hope the Assembly will take a closer, more meaningful look at the Aung San terror attack which occurred 20 years ago.
This reflective attitude may serve as a true memorial for those who lost their lives at the Aung San National Cemetery and demonstrate respect for their bereaved families.

* The writer is a professor of international relations at Yonsei University. Translation by JoongAng Daily staff.


by Lee Jung-min

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