The South Korean government of President Chun Doo Hwan today announced that it was considering the early release of imprisoned opposition politician Kim Dae Jung to allow him to seek medical treatment in the United States as part of an apparent deal that knowledgeable sources in Seoul said would amount to political exile for the political dissident.
The announcement came after national police authorities today transferred Kim, 57, to Seoul National University Hospital from a prison in Chong Ju, 100 miles south of the capital, where he has been serving a 20-year sentence on charges of sedition.
An official government statement said, "Taking into consideration the wishes of Mr. Kim and his family, the government is considering further generous actions, including the possibility of continuing medical treatment in the United States."
A government official indicated that Kim, who is believed to be suffering from chronic arthritis and ear problems, might be freed to go to the United States as early as next week.
A press spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul said that there would be "no problem" in issuing visas for Kim and members of his family.
Kim was arrested in May 1980 in the military crackdown that brought Chun to power. Kim was convicted by a military court on charges of sedition for allegedly helping to touch off a tumultuous uprising at Kwangju in 1980.
In September of that year, Kim, South Korea's most prominent dissident, was sentenced to death, a decision an appeals court upheld in late January 1981. That decision was later commuted to life imprisonment on the orders of Chun and was further reduced to 20 years as part of a general amnesty announced earlier this year.
The disposition of Kim's case proved one of the thorniest issues in relations between Seoul and Washington during the Carter administration.