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SEOUL — Heeding a call to probe abuses and crimes possibly hidden by decades of authoritarian rule, the South Korean military this week launched a special committee to investigate civilian deaths in the Korean War.

While the investigation will first focus on South Korean troops, officials said Thursday, the committee also likely would dig into accusations against foreign troops, including U.S. forces.

The investigations result from South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun’s call for government agencies to open records and release information on mysterious deaths unresolved from past decades.

“As President Roh commanded, we’re taking it a step further with this committee and will start to investigate crimes committed by the military during the war,” said Brig. Gen. Nam Dae-yeon, Ministry of National Defense spokesman.

“At the moment, we are focusing on the ROK Army. However, investigating crimes committed by foreign soldiers is still up in the air. I expect the investigation process for the ROK Army crimes to take around one month.”

Reports of several “massacres” of civilians during the 1950-53 Korean War have surfaced in recent years.

Four years ago, an Associated Press reporting team won a Pulitzer Prize for its series on No Gun Ri, where U.S. forces allegedly killed hundreds of civilians fleeing south during the war’s early days. The articles alleged U.S. commanders ordered their troops to fire intentionally on large groups of civilians, fearing North Korean infiltrators were among their ranks.

A Pentagon investigation of the incident disputed many of the findings, including that civilians were targeted intentionally, leading to widespread protests in Seoul.

According to Ministry of National Defense officials, the new inquiries will focus on 10 incidents in which large numbers of civilians reportedly were killed.

Separate investigative teams also will look into dozens of recent suicides by South Korean soldiers. In many cases, family members have accused military officials of covering up wrongdoing which led to the soldiers’ deaths.

MND officials said that together, the investigations are meant to quell public suspicion of the military, which backed authoritarian South Korean regimes for much of the past fifty years. The investigation committee, headed by the vice defense minister, will include both military and civilian investigators, officials said.

Roh’s call for investigations caused controversy in part because they could entail examining murky periods in South Korea’s history. His move to order investigations of Koreans accused of collaborating with or working for the Japanese before the World War II occupation has caused waves.

Roh made the call for the investigations Aug. 15, the day South Korea celebrates the end of Japanese occupation.

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