Martial law forces continued killing Gwangju citizens after suppression operation, says eyewitness

Posted on : 2023-05-17 17:24 KST Modified on : 2023-05-17 17:24 KST
Newly published investigation findings by the May 18 Democratization Movement Truth Commission show the brutal suppression of the Gwangju’s citizen uprising in 1980
Kim Jong-yeon sits outside the YMCA after being shot on May 27, 1980, after the supposed end of the suppression campaign in Gwangju (left). Though Kim had still been alive, he was shot once more by martial law forces and killed (right). (courtesy of Jeong Su-man, former chairperson of the May 18 Victims’ Family Members Association)
Kim Jong-yeon sits outside the YMCA after being shot on May 27, 1980, after the supposed end of the suppression campaign in Gwangju (left). Though Kim had still been alive, he was shot once more by martial law forces and killed (right). (courtesy of Jeong Su-man, former chairperson of the May 18 Victims’ Family Members Association)

An eyewitness to the events of May 1980 in Gwangju testified that martial law forces continued killing citizens there on May 27, even after the official suppression operation had ended.

Revelations that the martial law forces mobilized attack helicopters for Vulcan cannon training exercises also showed the Chun Doo-hwan’s military regime’s claims of exercising its “right to self-defense” to have been false.

According to investigation findings published by the May 18 Democratization Movement Truth Commission on Tuesday, martial law forces shot Kim Jong-yeon, a 19-year-old studying to retake the national college entrance examination, when he emerged from hiding in the Gwangju YMCA building on May 27, 1980, after the supposed end of the city’s suppression operation.

Patrick Chauvel, a French photographer who visited Gwangju on May 6 of this year, told the commission that while he was documenting the events from the eighth floor of the Jeonil Building across the street, Kim “raised his hand toward me and shouted, ‘Help me.’”

One of the martial law troops also fired toward Chauvel from the top of an armored vehicle passing in front of the YMCA.

“I concealed myself, and when I looked back outside the window, the young man [Kim] was lying there. When I went to the scene some time later, he was dead,” he recalled.

A military bus photographed by French journalists Patrick Chauvel and Francois Lochon on May 27, 1980, directly after the martial law forces’ suppression of the former South Jeolla Provincial Office. The photo shows the last whereabouts of Lee Chang-hyeon, circled, a child who went missing during the events of the democratization movement. (courtesy of the May 18 Foundation)
A military bus photographed by French journalists Patrick Chauvel and Francois Lochon on May 27, 1980, directly after the martial law forces’ suppression of the former South Jeolla Provincial Office. The photo shows the last whereabouts of Lee Chang-hyeon, circled, a child who went missing during the events of the democratization movement. (courtesy of the May 18 Foundation)

According to the prosecutors’ postmortem report, Kim had multiple bullet wounds over his body. After he was shot at the YMCA on May 27, Kim’s body appeared to have been moved on a piece of plywood to the garden in back of the South Jeolla Provincial Office.

In another incident, citizens who had previously been wounded by gunshots were killed.

According to the commission’s report, soldiers with the 11th Special Forces Brigade (Airborne) took two victims who had been shot by paratroopers to the brigade’s base in the village of Junam, killed them, and secretly buried their remains. The victims, identified as Chae Su-gil and Yang Min-seok, had been riding in a minibus in the village in Gwangju’s Dong (East) District on May 23 when they were shot.

“The soldier who secretly buried the two civilians after they were shot was confirmed to have been Chae’s cousin, and footage was obtained in which the soldier admitted to having killed and buried them,” the commission explained.

The commission further said it had ascertained the route traveled by Lee Chang-hyeon, a 7-year-old who went missing during the events of May 1980 in Gwangju, after obtaining a photograph showing his last known whereabouts.

Previously, Lee had been seen in the arms of Lee Dong-chun, a professor at Mokpo Science College, in a photograph taken by former Asian Wall Street Journal correspondent Norman Thorpe and footage filmed by an overseas network.

The May 18 Democratization Movement Truth Commission exhumes remains of those appearing to be linked to the events of May 1980 in Gwangju in Haenam. (courtesy of the May 18 Democratization Movement Truth Commission)
The May 18 Democratization Movement Truth Commission exhumes remains of those appearing to be linked to the events of May 1980 in Gwangju in Haenam. (courtesy of the May 18 Democratization Movement Truth Commission)

The commission verified that an 11-year-old boy surnamed Cho — who was with Lee and one other child on a bus at the time — was taken to a child services committee and eventually adopted.

“While our investigations of missing persons to date have been in connection with secret burials, the confirmation that Mr. Cho was adopted has raised the possibility that Mr. Lee was adopted as well, so we are now looking into child welfare facilities around the country,” explained Heo Yeon-sik, director of the commission’s second investigation bureau.

The recent discovery of the remains of suspected victims of the May 1980 massacres have raised expectations for investigations into allegations of secret burials.

The commission is currently conducting genetic testing and other identification after unearthing 12 sets of remains, including six at a cemetery in Yeongam, South Jeolla Province; five near a military unit in Haenam; and one on a hill near the former Gwangju Detention Center.

This includes precision identification efforts underway on three sets of remains found last Sunday on a hill near a reserves training site in Baegya, a village in the Haenam township of Haenam County.

But Jeong Su-man, a May 1980 researcher who previously chaired the May 18 Victims\' Family Members Association, said, “Military records indicate that three victims killed in Haenam were temporarily buried in that region, and that family members retrieved two of the bodies.”

“There may be more victims, although it’s still too early to reach any conclusions,” he said.

Evidence of martial law forces firing from helicopters was also obtained.

In March 2022, the commission retrieved one 20-mm Vulcan cannon training round in the hills behind Chosun University in Gwangju’s Dong District. The location where it was found coincided with the location of fire by Cobra attack helicopters as described to prosecutors by key commanders with the martial law forces.

“After discovering evidence to suggest the martial law forces were firing practice Vulcan rounds, we are conducting a detailed investigation to determine the facts,” the commission said.

By Kim Yong-hee, Gwangju correspondent

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