S. Korea: Justice, not reconciliation Dire precedent: lTC Sentences of ex-presidents bode ill for North-South unification.


SOUTH AFRICA set one model for a traumatized nation coming to terms with its past in its Commission of Truth and Reconciliation. South Korea has set the opposite, in the trials of two ex-presidents, military officers and titans of industry. One seeks reconciliation, the other justice. It is a terrible choice for a nation to have to make.

Former President Chun Doo Hwan was sentenced to death for masterminding the 1979 coup and massacre of 200 demonstrators; former president Roh Tae-woo received 22 1/2 years; 13 other officers received prison terms; eight of Korea's biggest tycoons were sentenced to prison for bribing Roh.

This is an incredible downfall for the strong men who accommodated the restoration of democracy with the election of President Kim Young-sam. Justice came with a whirlwind after Roh was accused of collecting a half-billion dollars in bribes during a five-year presidency. Investigations and trials soon followed.

Many Koreans who suffered under the dictatorship consider this only justice. The two former presidents mocked the court, showed no remorse and claimed to have prevented Communist takeover. Yet many Koreans doubt the sentences will be served, believing that, after appeal, President Kim will commute sentences.

The prosperity of South Korea could be jeopardized if the patriarchs of the conglomerates are sent away. Also at issue is eventual reunification with Communist North Korea. That country's uneasy rulers are watching how vindictive the Southern democracy is to fallen autocrats.

Rep. Tony Hall, D-Ohio, has returned from North Korea testifying to near-famine. Washington, while rhetorically favoring the extinction of Communist North Korea, is providing humanitarian aid to keep it peaceful and non-nuclear militarily. The concept of reconciliation, currently rejected, might in the end be the only way to bring about the end of communism in the North and national reunification without a fearful war.

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