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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on April 4)

All News 07:01 April 04, 2022

Restoring dignity of victims
Yoon's tribute seen as bid for national unity

President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol has vowed to restore the dignity of victims of a civilian massacre on the southern island of Jeju. He made the vow Sunday when he attend the 74th anniversary of the April 3, 1948, uprising of Jeju residents against the U.S. military-led rule following the country's liberation from Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule.

It marked the first time that a president-elect has attended such a memorial event and paid tribute to the victims. In 2006, then President Roh Moo-hyun became the first sitting head of state to do so. President Moon Jae-in took part in the commemoration ceremony three times ― in 2018, 2020 and 2021. No conservative presidents such as Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye went to such a ceremony.

In fact, conservative politicians have so far been reluctant to embrace the spirit of the uprising for freedom and democracy. The uprising had long been distorted as a communist riot which resulted in the death of up to 30,000 civilians in bloody armed crackdowns. The estimated death toll accounted for 10 percent of the island's population at the time.

The massacre was a national tragedy prompted by violence of the U.S.-led military government in Korea at the time. It came amid the extreme ideological confrontation between the left and the right after the country was liberated from Japanese rule at the end of World War II. However, it took so long for the uprising to get a proper assessment. The Park Geun-hye administration designated April 3 as a day of national commemoration in 2014. Yet Park never attended the memorial during her presidency.

Now is the time to restore the honor of the victims and heal the wounds of their surviving families. Yoon's presence at the commemoration was seen as a step in the right direction toward reconciliation and forgiveness. His gesture will hopefully mark a starting point in promoting the unity of the nation which has been divided sharply between progressives and conservatives, especially since Moon took power in 2017 following Park's impeachment.

Yoon's commemorative speech is worth noting. "Healing the anguish and tending to the scars of April 3 is our responsibility as we move toward a future of reconciliation and coexistence," he said at the Jeju 4.3 Peace Park. He stressed the importance of embracing innocent victims and sharing. As he put forward, doing that is an obligation for a free democratic state that pursues the universal values of freedom and human rights.

In the lead-up to the March 9 election, Yoon promised proper compensation for the victims' families. He needs to make sure that compensation will be paid soon in accordance with a revision to the special law on the massacre which was passed through the National Assembly in February. After his May 10 inauguration, he is expected to attend a memorial marking the 42nd anniversary of the pro-democracy uprising in the southwestern city of Gwangju which began on May 18, 1980. Yoon and his conservative People Power Party (PPP) should re-evaluate the uprising in ways that can bring the people together to create a better future for the nation.

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