The South Korean government is considering legislation to provide for the political reeducation of radical students involved in antigovernment protests, according to Korean and western sources.
The precise form the law would take remains unclear, but according to one western diplomat, serious thought is being given to creation of one or more special camps to which offending students would be sent to have their political ideas changed. Students might remain free but be required to attend seminars.
Government officials depict the proposed "campus stabilization law" as a humane alternative to charging students under stringent national security and anticommunist laws, which provide for heavy prison terms and criminal records.
South Korean officials often see the country's student movement in terms of naive young people "ruining their lives" after being seduced by false ideas.
"The main purpose is to prevent the growth of left-leaning ideology and to set up a system to turn back their way of thinking to a safer side," said Kim Si Bok, spokesman for the South Korean Ministry of Education.
The law, now being debated in the government and ruling Democratic Justice Party, comes in response to escalating demonstrations against the government of President Chun Doo Hwan, a former Army general.
Its adoption is not assured, however. In the National Assembly it is certain to raise strong protests from opposition parties. It is also said to be opposed in some normally progovernment circles.
By most accounts, only a small fraction of South Korea's 900,000 college and university students are taking part in the protests. Still, government figures show that there were 1,792 student rallies during the first six months of this year.
Protesters contend that Chun's government is a military dictatorship. The government contends that it was duly elected and now faces a tiny violent minority trying to disrupt South Korea's society and economy.
Many of the rallies evolved into pitched battles between demonstrators and police, with rocks, molotov cocktails and tear gas being exchanged.
In May, students deeply embarrassed the government with a highly publicized three-day occupation of the United States Information Service library in Seoul to protest U.S. support for Chun's government.
After that, the government began a crackdown that has included early morning raids and the arrest or charging of about 200 students in connection with the takeover or alleged participation in protests that the government considers illegal.
Police also have arrested several artists on charges of supporting illegal protests with posters and other works of art.
Chun has fired several senior officials along the way, apparently because of their opposition to his moves or his unhappiness with their performance. They include his minister of justice and the president of Seoul National University, one of the city's most prestigious institutions.
The proposal for reeducation is a highly sensitive one in Seoul, apparently due in part to the concept's association with communist systems. South Korea's closely regulated press has reported that a new campus law is being considered but has said nothing directly about the reeducation concept.