South Korea's military leaders intend to change the country's government radically by installing a powerful new committee packed with generals, including Gen. Chon Doo Hwan and his colleagues who rose to power last December, informed sources said today.
The generals' plan was disclosed after Army troops regained control over the provincial capital of Kwangiu, which was seized last week by militant students and citizens. The martial law command said 10 persons, including two soldiers, were killed in today's assault, bringing to 146 the number of deaths in the nine-day rebellion.
The new ruling committee would include all of the dominant military figures and a few civilian Cabinet members, the sources said.
All essential decisions will be made by the new organization, as yet untitled, the sources added, explaining that the National Assembly will remain powerless and the Cabinet will play a minor role, chiefly in economic affairs.
Chon, the most prominent of a group of generals actually running the country since May 17, has personally informed some South Korean groups that the National Assembly will remain closed for the time being.
He joked in one season with newspaper executives that if the assembly were allowed to meet it would only be used as a stage for sit-in protests by opposition members.
Chon also disclosed, according to participants in these meetings, that the country's leading opposition figure, Kim Dae Jung, is being investigated for having somehow contributed to the massive uprising in Kwangju. Chon told the groups that Kim will be tried for sedition if evidence shows he contributed to the rebellion there. Sedition is a capital offense in South Korea.
It was not explained what connection Kim could have had with Kwangju. He was arrested the night before the first demonstration there and has not been heard from since. Presumably, the military leader was referring to remarks Kim made opposing martial law before he was arrested.
The generals' plan for imposing a new ruling committee was scheduled to be announced this afternoon after a Cabinet meeting, but for unknown reasons the announcement was delayed.
Several names have been mentioned for the new organization, the latest being the National Security Emergency Measures Committee. Chon has referred to it informally as an advisory or consultative committee.
According to one version circulating here, the committee would rule by decree until elections are held at some future time. In this version, the generals are said to believe some form of democracy should eventually be restored. However, they have jailed two of the three potential presidential candidates and a third is under house arrest.
As many as 30 officials would be named, the sources said. A primary group would consist of the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, the three chiefs of the armed forces, the defense minister, prime minister, deputy prime minister, three other ministers, and Chon, who would serve in his capacity as head of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency.
From 12 to 19 high-ranking generals would be added to that group, giving the military an overwhelming predominance.
Among them would be three generals who assisted Chon in the military uprising last Dec. 12 that removed all of the top generals then serving.
They are Gen. Ro Tae Woo, who is now commander of forces garrisoning Seoul; Gen. Kim Bok Dong, chief of staff of the Third Army, and Gen. Chung Ho Yung, commander of the South Korean special forces.
These three and Chon are now considered to be the most powerful persons in the country, able to rule unchallenged because of the bloodless coup on May 17 that gave them vast martial law powers.
Chon has steadily become the most prominent of the group, meeting frequently with business organizations, media executives, and other leaders to explain and justify the severe measures adapted so far.
In the last few days, he has made it clear that he has made the key decisions about dealing with the Kwangju uprising, and has asserted that he at one point restrained a subordinate who wanted to take the city by force when citizens were still milling in the streets.
However, some outsiders believe the generals still make decisions by collective means and that Chon is essentially no more powerful than the others. One knowledgeable source said that Chon may be considered "first among equals within the military group but that he is not in a position to make important decisions alone without consulting his colleagues.
The Associated Press reported the following from Kwangju:
The government used paratroopers, tanks and heavy machine guns to retake the city from rebellious students in a three-hour battle, then clamped on strict martial law.
Officials said 295 persons had been arrested as suspected instigators and participants in the revolt. Most of them were students.