South Korea's martial law commander was arrested last night and held for questioning in connection with the assassination of president Park Chung Hee, officials announced in Seoul today.
Several other generals also are being questioned about their possible role in the slaying, according to a statement issued this morning by Defense Minister No Jae Hyun.
The unexpected arrest indicated a wider conspiracy than previously acknowledged by Seoul officials. It followed reports that the martial law commander, Gen. Chung Sung Wha, had been implicated in the assassination plot by secret testimony of the accused assassin, former Korean Central Intelligence Agency director Kim Jae Kyu, who is on trial.
Military sources in Seoul said the arrest was ordered by the new president, Choi Kyu Hah, after he was informed of the testimony by military authorities in charge of the court martial.
Sources in Washington said, however, that the South Korean government acted only after the defense security commander, Gen. Chon Tu Wha, apparently acting without civilian authority, deployed troops against Gen. Chung and other ranking officers who have been widely rumored to be implicated in Park's assassination. By this account, Defense Minister No persuaded the forces to halt their action when he forced Gen. Chung to resign and placed him and several others under arrest pending an investigation.
[The State Department warned South Korean military leaders against any disruption of the democratic government, saying that would have "severe adverse impact" on relations between the countries. Earlier, unnamed U.S. officials had indicated concern because of "uncoordinated movements of troops" in Seoul.]
The arrest was made by military police at the general's home after a brief gun battle in which several persons, possibly including Chung, reportedly were injured.
The testimony allegedly implicating Chung, who was also the Army chief of staff, was not made public and no indication was given of how deeply he might be implicated. The public accounts before today's announcement have reported that Kim Jae Kyu had single-handedly plotted to assassinate president Park at a dinner party Oct. 26.
But private speculation has centered on rumors that Chung may have been involved. His role on the fatal night was never explained fully. Chung was having dinner at another restaurant nearby at the time of the shooting and heard the shots fired by his close friend Kim and others in the KCIA dining room.
Chung, however, emerged as martial law administrator following the president's death and was regarded as one of the most powerful men in the country. Eleven days after the assassination, the military issued a report exonerating all military officials of blame in the murder and citing Chung for luring Kim into a trap leading to his arrest.
Chung explained that he was in the neighborhood because Kim invited him to dinner, but then never showed up.
Kim's testimony at his trial, which began last week, said that he invited Chung to the separate dinner as a trick to have him readily available when he killed the president. Kim said he wanted to have Chung declare martial law and take over the country until a revolutionary committee could be established. But his testimony Saturday largely cleared the general of any role in planning or carrying out the assassination.
There also had been private criticism in recent days of Chung's performance as martial law commander. He had proved to be a tough enforcer of law and order, cracking down hard on demonstrators who opposed the election of the caretaker president, Choi.
Many dissidents were beaten severely by soldiers under his command after demonstrations in late November and dissident leaders criticized his rule as harsher than that of Park in some respects. Chung had given no indication when martial law would be abolished.
There also had been reports of persistent differences between Chung other generals.None of these differences was known outside military and government circles, however, and there had been no public indication that Chung was in disfavor.
There were no signs of disturbances or any instability in Seoul this morning. Until the defense minister's announcement at 7:30 a.m. no public statement had been made on the arrests and most south Koreans were in the dark about what had happened.
Military sources there said Chung was arrested after a gunbattle at his home. Four of his personal guards were said to be wounded.
The government statement said only that Chung had been implicated by new facts produced during the trial yesterday.The new information came from Kim's statements to the court, but it did not elaborate. It was reported today that the trial will be suspended indefinitely.