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Helicopter shooting confirmed during Gwangju Uprising.

The military opened fire from helicopters on civilians protesting the military junta of Chun Doo-hwan during the pro-democracy May 18 Gwangju Uprising in 1980, a fact-finding committee under the Ministry of National Defense said Wednesday.

The finding is different from the claims by former military officers who served under Chun, as they have claimed there were no such attacks on civilians despite testimony from many witnesses.

According to the committee, the Army fired at Gwangju residents from 500MD and UH-1H helicopters on May 21 and 27, and fighter jets armed with bombs were on standby as backup during the uprising.

The conclusion came after a five-month investigation by the committee that reviewed 620,000 pages of documents and interviewed hundreds of former military officers and witnesses. The allegation re-emerged in 2016 when 150 bullet holes were found on a building in which protesters were hiding.

"The martial law command made multiple verbal and written orders on firing from helicopters, and some former pilots testified they fired Vulcan rounds from Cobra attack helicopters toward a vacant lot as warning shots," the committee's report noted.

Former officers of the command claimed they did not deploy armed helicopters to Gwangju before May 21, but records showed three were on standby near the city from May 19, the committee said.

"The gunfire from the helicopters was a reckless and inhumane act, and is evidence of brutality, cruelty and the criminal nature of the oppression," it said. "While ground forces fired guns during clashes with protesters, the gunship attacks were premeditated and offensive. They should be re-evaluated as an inhumane and active act of a massacre."

The committee suggested the government and the military apologize to the people for the unacceptable crime.

However, beside the testimony, the committee failed to obtain helicopter operation logs as military units in questions did not keep them or claimed they no longer had them as more than 30 years have passed. It also confirmed the fighter jets were armed but did not find direct evidence showing they were to be used to bomb Gwangju.

An official of the May 18 Memorial Foundation also said it was regretful the committee was unable to find who ordered the gunship attack. "We can't say the truth was revealed without finding the person who gave the order; it could distort the truth," Kim Yang-rae, a director of the foundation, said.

In 1980, students in Gwangju started protest against the military junta, but as soldiers assaulted and arrested them, angry ordinary residents joined the protests. They began to arm themselves after troops fired into a crowd a more than 20,000 soldiers were reportedly mobilized to suppress them.

An official tally says around 160 citizens were killed and 1,000 were injured, but people in Gwangju say the actual number would be two to three times that figure.

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Publication:The Korea Times News (Seoul, Korea)
Geographic Code:9SOUT
Date:Feb 7, 2018
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