Police, military apologize for JejuFor the first time in 71 years, the Ministry of National Defense and National Police Agency apologized Wednesday to the victims of their brutal suppression of a civilian uprising on Jeju Island in 1948.
“The Ministry of National Defense expresses deep regret and condolences to the residents of Jeju Island who were sacrificed during the suppression of the Jeju April 3 Incident,” the ministry said in a statement. It also added that the ministry respects the spirit of the Special Act on Discovering the Truth of the Jeju April 3 Incident and the Restoration of Honor of Victims, which were established in 2000.
Until now, the ministry and the police never officially apologized for their suppression. They insisted that their operation on Jeju, which lasted for seven years and seven months and resulted in massive civilian casualties, were necessary to suppress the armed rebellion. In 2003, then-President Roh Moo-hyun offered the first apology from a head of state to the victims and their families.
The special act describes the Jeju April 3 Incident as “an incident in which the lives of inhabitants were sacrificed in the riot that arose on April 3, 1948 starting from March 1, 1947 and in the process of armed conflicts and suppression thereof that took place in Jeju-Do and the suppression thereof until September 21, 1954.”
According to an earlier fact-finding report by the government, the Jeju uprising began with the police shooting at participants in a March 1 Independence Movement anniversary commemoration in 1947. It later expanded to an armed insurgency by the Jeju branch of the South Korean Workers’ Party on April 3, 1948. The military and the police conducted suppression campaigns for several years.
The report showed that 10,245 people died and 3,578 went missing. Despite that official statistic, as many as 30,000 people are suspected to have been killed during the campaign. This is believed to be more than 10 percent of the Jeju population at the time.
A Defense Ministry official visited the press room at the ministry and read the statement.
The head of the National Police Agency also issued an official apology. “I offer my condolences to the innocent victims,” Police Commissioner-General Min Gap-ryong said Wednesday at a commemoration ceremony at Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul. Min is the first police leader to have attended the ceremony. He laid flowers at the mourning site and shed tears when a family member of a victim read a letter. President Moon Jae-in also issued a message on his Facebook. He wrote that the complete settlement of the incident is a way to overcome ideological division and unite the country.
“I will put in more effort to lay bare the truth and heal the wounds of the Jeju people including compensations and building a trauma center,” he wrote.
Last year, Moon pledged to offer compensation quickly to the victims and their families when he attended the 70th anniversary of the incident. The Democratic Party also pushed forward a revision to the special act to compensate them, but the bill has been stuck in the legislature for more than a year.
BY SER MYO-JA, PARK KWANG-SOO [firstname.lastname@example.org]