Memorials for 3 tragedies combined

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Memorials for 3 tragedies combined

A government official said Wednesday that state-backed memorial services for nationals who died during the three main naval skirmishes against North Korea will be held on a single day starting next year, igniting debate in a country that traditionally highlights honor for the deceased.

An insider from the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, who asked for anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said the decision was made in a cabinet meeting last June and that further details, such as the date and official name of the memorial day, are currently under negotiation.

The three clashes subject to the latest move are the second Yeonpyeong Naval Skirmish that occurred near Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea on June 29, 2002; the sinking of South Korea’s Cheonan warship on March 26, 2010; and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island on Nov. 23, 2010.

The source also mentioned Wednesday that the decision was legally binding, according to a domestic order that stipulates the government can carry out military memorial services until five years after the incident. On the sixth anniversary, the mourning ceremonies shall be held together with other similar memorial days.

Only when Pyongyang attacks South Korean soil or acts provocatively do locals show interest in such memorial services, the official said, who added that designating a single day to commemorate the lives lost on all three occasions was expected to focus the dispersed attention the public has for the issues.

However, Ahn Seong-ho, the head of the Korean Association for Patriots and Veterans Affairs Studies and a professor of political science and diplomacy at Chungbuk National University in Cheongju, North Chungcheong, argued that the plan would have the opposite effect.

“It’s not right to lump all these cases together when each one’s date, history and nature is completely different,” Ahn said, adding that the idea to host joint services is squarely based on the ill intentions of “administrative expediency.”

“Holding one huge event might elevate the public’s awareness toward the North, but in the long run, it will be counteractive and make people forget Pyongyang’s threats overall.”

A bereaved family member from one of the three clashes, who also wished to go unnamed, said the government was being unreasonable for trying to force the families to reschedule their memorial services when the precise dates of their deaths were clear.

“I can understand the government trying to hold joint services for, let’s say, the 1950-53 Korean War, when people don’t know when or how their family members died. But this is just plain offensive to the surviving families.”

BY JEONG YONG-SOO, LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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