Excavations are set for 1980 Gwangju victims

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Excavations are set for 1980 Gwangju victims

The justice ministry said Friday it officially approved a plan to dig for the remains of victims who went missing during a 1980 pro-democracy uprising at an old prison site in the southern provincial city of Gwangju.

A joint team formed by the government and the May 18 Memorial Foundation announced the project late last month, and it will start as early as this week.

The Ministry of Justice said it completed all necessary procedures, including verifying the expertise of the team and safety checks, and will fully support the project going forward.

Dozens of victims are believed to have been secretly buried during the bloody crackdown 37 years ago, when thousands of Gwangju citizens rose up against the military junta led by Gen. Chun Doo-hwan, who seized power in a coup.

The junta sent tank-led paratroopers to ruthlessly quell the nine-day revolt. More than 200 people were killed and 1,800 wounded, official data show, while many believe the death toll was much higher.

The excavation site, now covered in asphalt, is where the Gwangju Prison had been located. The team plans to bring in ground-penetrating radar that can reach as much as 10 meters (33 feet) deep.

Calls for a fresh investigation into the massacre have been strong, but moves were tepid under the two previous conservative governments. President Moon Jae-in, who took office in May, has promised to get to the truth and has ordered a special probe into the case.

The excavation team chose the old prison site based on the testimony from a major in an airborne brigade in charge of the crackdown.

He confessed to burying some 12 bodies in a farm that was at the facility. A couple of people who were inmates at the time also told the foundation they witnessed bodies being disposed of.

Any remains they find at the site will be analyzed for DNA comparison with the samples collected from 295 families of the missing, the foundation said.

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