Subscribe

PYEONGTAEK, South Korea — Twenty-six years ago this month, South Korean troops in South Cholla Province killed large numbers of pro-democracy protesters during the “Gwangju Uprising.”

This weekend, activists who oppose the Camp Humphreys planned expansion project will observe the uprising’s 26th anniversary. They contend the government’s role in crushing the 1980 Gwanju protests is similar to the recent use of South Korean security forces to deal with protesters in Daechu-ri, a village near Camp Humphreys.

Not all South Koreans share that view, according to the Yonhap news agency. In a government poll, 85.7 percent of the 1,000 respondents rejected the activist’s contention that the Daechu-ri events were akin to the Gwangju Uprising, according to Yonhap.

And Hyun In-taek, an international relations professor at Korea University in Seoul, said, “It’s totally different situation. Totally different characteristics and it’s not appropriate for us to compare (Daechu-ri) with the Gwangju Uprising.”

According to various South Korean and U.S. news accounts, the events that led to the May 1980 uprising were set in motion eight months earlier, when South Korean president Park Chung-hee was shot and killed by Kim Jae-kyu, the head of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency.

In the national political turmoil that followed, Maj. Gen. Chun Doo-hwan staged an internal military coup that put him at the military’s head. He then prevailed upon new president Choi Kyu-hah to be put in charge at the KCIA and to impose martial law.

In May 1980, pro-democracy demonstrations erupted nationwide, with demonstrators pushing for elections and an end to martial law. Protesters in Gwangju refused government orders to stop protesting.

On May 18, elite South Korean paratroopers were ordered into the city. Many demonstrators were killed in what protesters charged was avid and indiscriminate brutality by the troops.

Stunned by the troops’ conduct, civilians broke into armories and police stations and grabbed weapons. The government sought unsuccessfully to end the standoff. Then, on May 27, troops trained in riot control were sent in and ended the uprising with far less bloodshed than had occurred earlier.

After South Korea returned to civilian rule, the government formally apologized and a national cemetery was established for the victims.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up