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Ex-S. Korea Leaders To Get Pardons

December 20, 1997

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ South Korea’s outgoing president agreed to Kim Dae-jung’s request to pardon two former military leaders, including one who tried to kill the president-elect 17 years ago.

President Kim Young-sam approved the amnesty during a luncheon meeting with Kim Dae-jung, during which the president-elect recommended pardon, according to a presidential aide. The meeting was their first since Kim Dae-jung was elected president Thursday.

The move was seen as a gesture aimed at assuaging fears of political revenge and rallying support across political lines for the nation’s new leader, who takes power with the tough task of nurturing the country’s collapsed economy back to health.

The two military strongmen _ Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo _ will be released from prison Monday and their civil and political rights will be restored, according to the presidential Blue House.

``This is (the) time that the country should mobilize all its resources through reconciliation and overcome the present economic crisis,″ President Kim Young-sam was quoted as saying by his chief spokesman.

Chun and Roh have been serving life and a 17-year jail term, respectively, for seizing power in a 1979 army coup and taking millions of dollars in bribes from businessmen while in office.

The special pardon, however, did not relieve them of hefty fines. Chun was fined $270 million and Roh $350 million _ roughly the same amounts they received in bribes from businessmen.

The pardon represented the ultimate in forgiveness by Kim Dae-jung, whose four-decade political career was marked by jailings, exile and assassination attempts by former military dictators.

Several months after the December 1979 coup, then president Chun had Kim Dae-jung arrested on false charges of fomenting a civil uprising that resulted in the deaths of 200 people in what became known as the ``Kwangju Massacre.″

Kim was subsequently tried and sentenced to death. After Washington intervened, the death sentence was later reduced to life and then to a 20-year term. He was released two years later and allowed to go to the United States for medical treatment.

Chun and Roh, hometown and military friends, ruled South Korea for 13 years until Roh was replaced in 1993 by Kim Young-sam, the nation’s first civilian president in 30 years. He imprisoned the two ex-generals for the coup, the Kwangju massacre and corruption.

Kim, 73, was persecuted by successive military governments. He wears a hearing aid in his left ear, which he said was damaged during torture by government agents in 1980 under Chun’s military rule.

During the presidential campaign, Kim publicly disavowed any political revenge and promised that if elected, he would try to seek to release the two former leaders from prison.

Despite that, newspapers said he at least would try to overhaul security agencies widely involved in political crackdowns on government critics.

``Many security agency officials are worried about their future,″ the Hankyoreh Shinmun newspaper reported.

Kim will not take office until February, but said a transition team will be formed to work with the government to nurture South Korea’s ailing economy.

Kim spent much of his acceptance speech Friday pledging to revive the economy _ and pay back a record $57 billion loan Korea negotiated earlier this month with the International Monetary Fund.

``Although a tough road lies ahead of us, it is a path we must take,″ said the president-elect, the first opposition figure to win the job since Korea’s independence in 1948.

Kim blamed the crisis on a decades-old system in which the previous administrations funded and protected business in exchange for bribes. He pledged to end the practice.

``I will sever all businesses from political shackles and protection,″ Kim said. ``Businesses must survive in a free-market economy and through global competition.″

Kim also pledged to fully cooperate with the IMF, stick to a market economy system, open the markets considerably and make South Korea an attractive place for foreign investment.

The IMF has demanded that South Korea restrain its economic growth, raise taxes and interest rates and slow the expansion of its powerful conglomerates. Those conditions could make Kim an unpopular man if, as most analysts predict, they result in the loss of up to 1 million jobs next year.

Kim said Friday he plans to visit the United States and Japan to appeal for their support for South Korea’s efforts to resolve its economic problems. He also said he wants to meet Michel Camdessus, the head of the International Monetary Fund, in Washington to discuss Korea’s economic situation.

Regarding North Korea, Kim said he supports peace talks already started that include the United States and China, but believes the two rivals on the Korean peninsula also should open their own discussions.

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