Park’s defense for Sewol absence begins to fray

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Park’s defense for Sewol absence begins to fray

A former presidential secretary for crisis management on Thursday challenged President Park Geun-hye’s argument that it was unjust to impeach her for nonfeasance during the 2014 Sewol ferry sinking because the Blue House was not in charge of the rescue operation.

Ryu Hee-in, who served on the special investigation commission for the disaster, testified Thursday as a witness during Park’s impeachment trial at the Constitutional Court about the National Assembly’s decision that Park must be removed from office because she failed to properly respond to the sinking of the Sewol, which resulted in the death of 304 people. The impeachment motion, passed last month, said she violated Article 10 of the Constitution, which demands she protect the lives of citizens.

Park was also impeached for allowing her secret inner circle, including longtime friend Choi Soon-sil, to interfere in state affairs.

“Although there is no explicit stipulation, the president is responsible for a national disaster,” said Ryu at the Constitutional Court’s fourth hearing on whether to remove the president. “I cannot understand the argument that the Blue House did not have the highest control of managing the Sewol ferry’s sinking.”

“The ultimate responsibility of a national disaster lies with the president,” he also said.

Ryu is a retired Air Force major general who served as the head of the crisis management center for the National Security Council during President Roh Moo-hyun’s administration from 2003 till 2006. Since then, he served as the crisis management secretary and deputy head of the NSC until 2008.

“Based on my previous work experience,” he said, “I cannot understand why the [Blue House’s crisis management center] did not serve its function to control the situation with all its means and assets.”

Kim Jang-soo, former head of the National Security Office under Park, earlier said the Central Disaster Management Headquarters, headed by the minister of security and public administration, is the highest in the chain of command that oversees a disaster, not the Blue House.

Ryu also said it was not clear why the Blue House’s crisis management center briefed Park about the accident by sending written reports, rather than having a face-to-face meeting.

“You call the personal secretary to the president and his office to brief the president,” Ryu said, adding that a written report would be submitted to the president, only when it is considered not an urgent situation.

He also said the president should have summoned a ministerial meeting after receiving the report about the accident, citing the crisis management protocol of the Roh Blue House.

“It also doesn’t make sense that you don’t know where the president is in time of a disaster,” he said, adding that the head of the national security office must know the president’s schedule. “If you don’t, then you can find out immediately through the personal secretary in the Blue House’s system.”

Kim, who headed the national security office on the day of the ferry’s sinking, earlier said he sent written reports about the accident to the Blue House’s main office and Park’s resident because he did not know where she was.

During the crucial early hours of the disaster, Park stayed at her residence and received only written and phone reports about the situation. She had no face-to-face meeting.

The testimony was made as other officials of the Roh administration condemned Park’s argument that she worked from her residence on the day of the Sewol’s sinking, just like her predecessors, the late Presidents Roh and Kim Dae-jung, often did.

The argument was a part of a report Park submitted to the Constitutional Court on Tuesday about her whereabouts and actions on the day of Sewol’s sinking. The court expressed dissatisfaction and asked her to provide a more specific account.

In her report, Park justified staying at the residence during the crucial early hours of Sewol’s sinking by saying Roh had also received briefings about the kidnapping of Kim Sun-il, an interpreter and Christian missionary in Iraq, in 2004.

Rep. Lee Hae-chan of the Minjoo Party of Korea, Roh’s prime minister at the time of the kidnapping, released Wednesday the detailed actions of Roh from June 21, 2004, when Kim’s kidnapping was confirmed, until June 23, when he was murdered. The two-page list had Roh’s whereabouts and actions by minutes. “Roh worked from his residence before 9 a.m. and after 6 p.m.. He also received a briefing at 1 a.m.,” Lee said. “Do not distort the truth.”

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]


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