Thu 23 Feb 2006
Filed under: News,Regional
Twenty-three years after 17 high-ranking Seoul government officials were killed in a North Korean bombing in Burma, now Myanmar, the full truth may be known soon as one of the Northern communist agents involved wants to live in South Korea, according to a South Korean lawmaker.
On Oct. 9, 1983, a powerful bomb demolished the Martyr’s Mausoleum in Rangoon, now Yangon, just before visiting South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan was to pay homage there.
The mausoleum is a major national sanctuary in Burma where the body of the country’s founding leader Thankin Aung San is buried. The late patriot is the father of Aung San Suu Kyi, a prominent opposition leader in Myanmar.
Chun escaped unhurt as his motorcade was delayed by a few minutes due to traffic congestion. Seventeen South Koreans, including four Cabinet members, who lined up, waiting for the president’s arrival, were killed instantly.
Those killed also included four Burmese nationals. Some of the 46 people injured were South Korean journalists accompanying their president. Burma was their first stop on a six-nation Asian tour.
Chun cancelled the rest of his schedule, returned to Seoul and pinpointed North Korea as the culprit. North Korea denied involvement but Burma, with evidence, publicly incriminated Pyongyang and severed diplomatic ties with it.
According to Burma’s official reports, three North Korean agents detonated by radio one of the three pre-planted bombs in the roof of the mausoleum. However, they did so prematurely as a presidential bugle mistakenly rang out a few minutes early to signal Chun’s arrival.
After the bombing, the communist trio — an army major and two captains — fled the scene, but two days later, one of them was shot to death and two others were arrested after failing to blow themselves up with hand grenades
One of the two captured agents was later executed by hanging but the other, identified by Burma as Kang Min-chul, was kept alive because he had cooperated with the Burmese investigation into the case.
The incident has drawn renewed public attention in South Korea as Rep. Chung Hyung-keun of the main opposition Grand National Party (GNP), who once worked for the government’s main intelligence agency, said recently that the surviving communist agent, Kang, has expressed his hope to settle in South Korea.
“”The government should bring him here to get to the bottom of this kind of barbaric act and record it in history,”" Chung said through his aide, Park Woong-seo.
Some believe that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il should be held responsible for the Rangoon bombing, because he, as a key party official, was deeply involved in day-to-day state affairs, including the North’s policy toward South Korea.
Kim Jong-il officially took over power when his father and president, Kim Il-sung, died of heart failure in 1994.
On Monday, the opposition lawmaker introduced a petition calling for the National Assembly to urge the Seoul government to make efforts to obtain Kang’s release from prison and bring him to Seoul.
“”Related authorities should make efforts to take custody of Kang, the sole survivor who is a living witness to this historic incident,”" said the petition, signed by 56 retired soldiers, civic activists and other ordinary citizens.
According to the lawmaker’s office, the communist agent, now 50, was first sentenced to death but later had it commuted to life imprisonment. The agent lost his right arm when he tried to kill himself by detonating a grenade but generally is in good health, it said.
South Korean government officials said they have no immediate plan to seek Kang’s release from Myanmar.
“”This is a very sensitive issue, so all related government ministries should coordinate,”" said Kim Dong-chan, an official at the Southeast Asian affairs bureau at Seoul’s Foreign Ministry.
“”First, we have to check whether Kang really became an inmate sentenced to life in prison and wants to come to the South,”" another ministry official said, requesting anonymity.
Myanmar’s Embassy in Seoul said it is aware of the news on Kang but has no knowledge of whether its government will allow him to fly to South Korea.
“”We don’t know what is going on in Yangon,”" said Kim Jung-hwan, a Korean spokesman at the Myanmar Embassy.
A military junta took over Myanmar in 1988. It has since brutally cracked down on pro-democracy protests. Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has been under house arrest for most of the past 18 years.