SEOUL, NOV. 27 -- A senior South Korean official said today the government will not permit U.S. congressional aides or any other foreigners to act as observers in the presidential election here.
The Foreign Ministry official, Park Soo Gil, was reacting to reports reaching Seoul today that aides to Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Cal.), Rep. Thomas M. Foglietta (D-Pa.) and eight other members of Congress are planning to come to observe the Dec. 16 election. Americans played a similar role in watching for fraud in the election that preceded the ouster of president Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines.
"As far as we are concerned, it is an insult to the strong determination of the Korean people to have a fair election," Park said in a meeting with foreign reporters. "It involves a matter of principle, it involves a matter of sovereignty."
The three major opposition candidates here have charged that the government and ruling party already have begun buying votes for their candidate, Roh Tae Woo, and intend to commit fraud on election day.
They have said they are particularly concerned about the nation's 600,000 troops, who will cast absentee ballots in the presence only of their commanding officers, and about other absentee ballots. Absentees account for 3.3 percent of registered voters, which could be decisive in a four-way race.
"In the past, the absentee ballots used to be virtually 'kept' accounts for 'election premiums' for the ruling party, while giving a bitter taste to the opposition forces," the Korea Times said in an editorial today.
Even many Koreans who support the opposition do not like the idea of foreign observers. In an editorial to appear in Saturday's newspaper, the Korea Times said that Americans should not come here "with the illusion that they are the guardians of justice in a backward democracy."
The Korea Herald agreed, saying, "Excessive meddlesomeness on the part of some of Korea's 'friends' and 'watchers' will only hurt the pride and dignity of the Korean people, who are capable of managing their own affairs."
U.S. diplomats have told Washington that it should not play an active part in the vote.
"We have made a pitch that Korean nationalism is a big thing here . . . . Koreans in general do not want a U.S. government role in this election," one said.
The South Korean government is expected to grant visas to "all but the most partisan of Kim Dae Jung supporters," a western diplomat said here today.
But Park said would-be observers will not be allowed to witness voting or vote counting.
Defense Minister Chung Ho Yong today urged military commanders to maintain neutrality in the election.