|Kim Yong-chang, a former intelligence agent for the U.S. military, stands inside a deserted boiler room where he alleges bodies of killed protesters were incinerated during the May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement in 1980 during a visit to the site of a former military hospital in Gwangju, Wednesday. Yonhap|
By Jung Da-min
Some conservative politicians have echoed a far-right researcher's claims that North Korea secretly sent troops to Gwangju in 1980 to instigate a "riot" against then-Army General Chun Doo-hwan, who seized power in a coup in late 1979.
In February, some lawmakers of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) even organized a forum at the National Assembly to "re-evaluate" the Gwangju Democratization Movement, in which researcher Ji Man-won reiterated such claims, saying North Korea's involvement in the incident is a clear fact.
However, recent testimony by Kim Yong-chang, a former intelligence agent for the U.S. military, suggests there was an attempt by Chun's camp to use North Korea as a pretext for their deadly crackdown on the city.
Kim, who was in Gwangju at the time to gather intelligence about the popular uprising, claimed hundreds of "plainclothes" South Korean soldiers were operating undercover among the protesters. He presumed that their role was to incite violence as agents provocateurs, thus making a military crackdown look justifiable.
Kim, now 75, had worked for the U.S. 501st military intelligence brigade for 25 years before retiring in 1999 and moving to Fiji, where he lives now. He visited Seoul and Gwangju on Monday and Tuesday, respectively, to testify to the National Assembly and citizens in Gwangju on what he saw and heard while working with his informants, mostly officials of the South Korean military at the time of the movement.
"The so-called plainclothes soldiers were out of uniform for their undercover missions including spreading rumors and predatory practices," Kim said in an interview with a CBS radio show, Tuesday. "I only reported the presence of such soldiers to the U.S. military but I believe they could have played a role in other democratic movements around that time."
Kim said it is very unlikely that North Korean soldiers came to Gwangju, evading the high-tech surveillance network of the U.S. military which included two satellites that had been watching Gwangju and North Korea closely.
"There was no reason for North Korean troops to come all the way to Gwangju crossing mountains and seas, while they could instead head for Seoul," Kim said. "I think Ji does not know much about the systems of the military."
Following his testimonies, a man who introduced himself as a former soldier involved in such undercover work said it was true that such soldiers existed at the time in an interview with the CBS radio show, Wednesday.
He said he was on a mission to implicate students of Kyungnam University to police officers while getting along with them as an undercover soldier during the Bu-Ma Democratic Protests in Gyeongsang Province in 1979 against the Yushin dictatorship of then-President Park Chung-hee.
While the rumors of North Korean involvement have resulted in a storm of criticism, it is unlikely the LKP members who made the controversial remarks defaming those involved in the democratic movement in Gwangju, including Rep. Kim Jin-tae, Kim Soon-rye and Lee Jong-myeong, will face any legal punishment.
Amid the criticism, LKP leader Hwang Kyo-ahn is expected to visit Gwangju on Saturday to attend a ceremony marking the 39th anniversary of the May 18 democratic movement.