Rallies over MacArthur statue were North plot

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Rallies over MacArthur statue were North plot

Seoul police arrested two pro-Pyongyang activists on charges of starting a campaign to remove a statue of U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur from a park in Incheon under orders from North Korea.

According to the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, two leaders of the Korean Confederation Unification Promotion Council were arrested on charges of receiving directives from a North Korean agent from 2004 to 2005 to stage a series of violent, illegal rallies from May to September 2005, demanding the removal of the MacArthur statue. The North also told them to organize an alliance of progressive civic groups to demand the withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Korea.

Police said 12 additional members of the council are to be investigated in the case.

This is the latest in a series of investigations of national security law violations regarding the statue of the general, who led the United Nations Command in the Korean War from 1950 to 1951. In memory of his September 1950 amphibious invasion at Incheon, which turned the tide of the war, the statue was erected at the Incheon Freedom Park in 1957.

The statue has been a target of anti-U.S. demonstrations over the last decade. Since September 2005, pro-Pyongyang groups hold rallies every year in front of the statue demanding its removal.

The Korean Confederation Unification Promotion Council, formed in 2004, promotes North Korea’s philosophy of unifying the two Koreas in a confederation. In 2005, it staged a 69-day protest inside the park to demand the statue’s removal, which turned violent on September 11, 2005, when 4,000 protesters clashed with police.

The council, however, was not alone in demanding the statue’s removal. Two other liberal civic groups have been investigated about their participation in the campaign over the years.

Police now say that the rallies began on orders from North Korea. (Since the first protest in 2005, North Korea has publicly lauded the rallies in statements through its state-run media.)

According to law enforcement authorities and security officials, 2005 was a landmark year in North Korea, which celebrated the 10th anniversary of Kim Jong-il’s “military first” policy.

The year also marked the 60th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule, and North Korea, in its New Year’s address, advocated that the history of U.S. troops in Korea must not go beyond 60 years.

Police said the two arrested activists traveled to China in 2004 to meet a North Korean agent, who gave them orders to organize the rallies against the statue and U.S. troops in the South. “North Korea normally gives a direction in a larger framework, and pro-Pyongyang activists in the South come up with specific implementation plans,” said a security official.

Police and prosecutors said nine pro-Pyongyang groups held a meeting in 2005 to discuss how to implement the orders and formed a special committee to demand the withdrawal of U.S. Forces Korea. A team was also formed under the committee to campaign for the removal of the statue.

Another security official said the MacArthur statue was targeted because of the North's loathing of the American general, who stopped North Korea from taking over the entire peninsula.

“The campaign to remove the statue is the symbol of the anti-American movement,” said another security official. “There is no actual gain for the North even if the statute is removed, but it will send a strong message to its people and solidify the network of pro-Pyongyang activists in the South.”

Lim Soon-hee, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute of National Unification, agreed. “The campaign will fuel ideological conflicts within the South and taint the image of South Korea for Americans.”

By Ser Myo-ja, Lee Chul-jae [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

The statue of U.S. General Douglas MacArthur in a park in Incheon. [JoongAng Ilbo archive]
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