SEOUL, FEB. 23 -- A blue-ribbon commission today urged President-elect Roh Tae Woo to apologize for the violent suppression of citizen protests eight years ago following the coup that brought Roh and current President Chun Doo Hwan to power.
The Committee for Democracy and National Reconciliation, appointed by Roh after his Dec. 16 election, urged him to restore the honor of those who took part in the Kwangju uprising, in which at least 200 civilians were killed, and to pay compensation to victims' families.
Government opponents criticized the panel for opposing a full investigation of the May 1980 incident, which has cast a long shadow over Chun's government and the nation's politics ever since. The panel also recommended against punishment for the Army generals responsible for suppressing the protests.
But the panel, which heard testimony from Kwangju victims in wheelchairs and many others, offered the first acknowledgement from the establishment that the Kwangju massacre was the fault of the Army and not of mutinous citizens, as Chun's government has always maintained.
In a separate development today, two longtime opposition leaders who have been at odds since the December election met for the first time in four months. Kim Young Sam and Kim Dae Jung, whose candidacies last fall split the antigovernment vote and helped Roh win the nation's first free election in 16 years, embraced and promised to work toward a merger of their two parties.
Political observers here said the opposition would have a good chance of winning a majority in the National Assembly if the two Kims cooperate. General elections, delayed by squabbling among the parties, are now expected in April.
"If we fail to form a unified party, we will die a second time," Kim Young Sam said, referring to the opposition's bitterly criticized failure in the presidential election.
But politicians in both camps said that, despite the unexpected meeting between the two Kims, prospects for a merger remain cloudy. Kim Young Sam two weeks ago officially resigned as president of his party, and his supporters are urging Kim Dae Jung to follow suit.
In addition, a merger would force the Kims to allocate candidacies among their supporters. Both Kims raised money during their unsuccessful presidential campaigns by promising places on the ticket this spring, according to knowledgeable politicians, and they will have difficulty honoring those promises in a merged party.
The reconciliation commission was composed of 56 generally progovernment citizens. Nonetheless, the committee openly debated many previously taboo subjects during 38 days of deliberations.
The committee recommended that teachers and government officials discharged for political reasons be rehired. It also urged Roh to approve a sweeping amnesty for political prisoners after he takes office.
Its most sensitive recommendations, however, concerned the Kwangju incident, which more than anything else has prevented Chun from winning acceptance as a legitimate president. In a nation where political protest is fierce but ritualized and deaths are rare, the violent suppression of the Kwangju protests were unprecedented and, many said, unforgivable.