44 years later, former South Korean spy chief confirms North Korea’s role in bloody ‘Gwangju incident’

by WorldTribune Staff, June 23, 2024 Contract With Our Readers

North Korean special forces were involved in the 1980 “Gwangju incident” in South Korea, a former head of South Korea’s intelligence agency has now confirmed.

“For the first time, it is revealed that the Agency for National Security Planning (NSP) (now the National Intelligence Service) had already confirmed North Korea’s involvement in the Gwangju incident of May 1980 [referred to as “5.18” in South Korea] through ‘secret operations’ in the 1990s.” the Sky eDaily reported on June 20.

‘Korean People’s Army (KPA) Martyred Heroes Tombstone Monument’ in Chongjin, North Hamkyung Province, North Korea. The photo was taken in November 2011, according to the South Korean team collecting intelligence on North Korea that provided the photo.

Kwon Young-Hae, a former director of NSP, recently met with Sky eDaily and revealed: “Our government directly confirmed North Korea’s involvement in the Gwangju incident [in May 1980] when I was the head of the intelligence agency.”

The highly-charged political uprising was brutally put down, with hundreds, if not thousands, of deaths resulting. It occurred only months after the assassination of President Park Chung-Hee, and the crackdown was carried out by troops under the command of his eventual successor, Gen. Chun Du-Hwan.

In an off-the-record interview in Seoul, only weeks before the Gwangju incident and after the assassination of Park, Chun told an American correspondent that troop movements indicated the North was actively moving to take advantage of the unrest in the South that preceded Park’s assassination (by then KCIA Director Kim Jae-Gyu.)

Related: Seoul seeks to silence defector on North Korean role in ‘Gwangju incident’ , April 26, 2021

In 1996, Chun was sentenced to death for his role in the suppression of the uprising but was pardoned the following year by President Kim Young-sam. He never apologized for his role in the Gwangju incident but was hounded by South Korea’s political left until his death on Nov. 23, 2021. He was stripped of his military honors, denied both a state funeral and burial in the national cemetery and publicly denounced by his grandsons.

The incident is so politically sensitive that to suggest publicly or in textbooks that the South Korean military government was not fully to blame for the loss of life could lead to lawsuits and imprisonment.

The report noted that (Ret.) Col. Jee Man-Won has been in prison since January 2023 for stating that North Korean special forces were involved in the Gwangju incident.

Kwon, who served as Minister of National Defense in 1993 and Director of NSP from 1994 to 1998, is the highest-ranking government official to testify about North Korea’s involvement in the Gwangju incident.

Kwon reiterated that the connection between the monument and North Korea’s involvement in Gwangju was “true and I have confirmed it.”

Regarding the timing of the verification, Kwon emphasized the fact that he verified it when he was the head of the intelligence agency, saying, “I was trying to confirm it because it appeared in North Korean textbooks, and I cannot specify the source.”

He said, “When we found out that (the Tombstone Monument) was in Chongjin because (its existence) appeared in North Korean textbooks, we moved to verify it,” adding, “However, since they were secret operations, we could not confirm that it was verified by (our) intelligence agencies, so it was treated as if it were provided by North Korean defectors.”

With the revelations made by the former NSP head, the existence of the Tombstone Monument in Cheongjin is being put in new light.

The report notes that the names of 490 North Korean operatives who died while conducting sabotage operations in South Korea are inscribed on the Tombstone Monument in Chongjin:

• It was erected 800 meters north of the Chongjin Station building on February 8, 1998.
• There are 2 records of the “battle dead” from the 534th, 108th, and 806th military units and their battle records
• Date of death of June 19, 1980…the deaths occurred on different dates, but used one date—the date the operation ended—as the death date for all.

On Sept. 27, 2012, a group of North Korean defectors held a press conference in Seoul to reveal the identity of the graves and monuments. North Korea removed the Tombstone Monument over the course of 2013 and 2014 in order to hide it, and the site was disguised as a Korean War memorial, i.e., the KPA Heroes’ Cemetery, as revealed in the 2020 book “Gwangju Incident Viewed from the Records of Intelligence Agencies of North Korea, South Korea, the United States, and Japan.”

It is said that even in 2014, it was also disguised as a grave decoration, leaving two graves intact and removing the Tombstone Monument. Then, a new steel monument was erected by the central staircase, and the years 1950~1953 was added at the bottom front. This way, the graves of those who died in June 1980 suddenly turned into the graves of those who died in the Korean War.

The “KPA Martyred Heroes Tombstone Monument” contained a list of battle dead, but the “KPA Martyrs Tombstone”, which was renovated in 2013 and 2014, does not contain any names. In response to this, the authors said, “We can see that the situation is something that the North Korean authorities have to conceal,” and they agreed that it is “evidence of disguise.”

Kwon did not say whether he had reported the results of the operation to the then president. The later part of his term overlaps with the People’s Government (Kim Dae-Jung administration). The 15th president Kim Dae-Jung was inaugurated on February 25, 1998, and Kwon served until March of that year.

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