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 Tuesday, 21 January, 2003, 09:21 GMT
South Koreans atone for Vietnam War
A napalm attack in Vietnam
South Korea fought alongside the US for 12 years

Some of the memories of atrocities committed during the Vietnam War are being laid to rest today with the opening of a peace park in the south of the country.

It has been largely funded by South Koreans through a newspaper, the weekly Hankyoreh 21 or People 21, which has exposed atrocities committed by South Koreans during the war.

The former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung described the war as an unhappy historical event

South Korea sent about 300,000 soldiers to fight in Vietnam, the second-largest foreign presence fighting against the Communist North after the United States.

In the years since the war, there has been little discussion of the actions of the South Koreans. Now, the opening of the peace park in Phu Yen province is seen by many as an expression of regret.

Readers' donations

Hankyoreh 21 has called the opening a symbolic gesture to reflect a deep-rooted grief over what happened during the Vietnam War.

The paper has run a series of articles about atrocities committed by South Korean troops during the war.

Its readers donated more than $100,000 for the park.

It features a Korean "sottae" memorial, symbolising sanctuary, and a peace museum supported by a Korean group campaigning for truth on the Vietnam War.

It is a subject which has rarely been discussed in either country.

The park is a private initiative, and the opening has not involved any of Seoul's representatives in Vietnam.

Good relations

Despite Hanoi's strong ties with Communist North Korea, which supported North Vietnam in the war, Vietnam has forged a co-operative relationship with South Korea.

The diplomatic relationship is 10 years old and was expanded from economic links to include military ties several years ago.

South Korea is one of Vietnam's top foreign investors, and Vietnam the main recipient of aid from Seoul.

There have been several high-level official exchanges, as well as visits to Vietnam by war veterans.

Sour history

There has been a debate about why South Korea became mired in Vietnam for 12 years.

Vietnam analyst Carl Thayer says the debate has included the South's fear of Communism, given its own experience with North Korea, as well as a feeling of obligation to the US for its support in the Korean War.

South Korean government sources say that Vietnam has never raised the subject of compensation for war atrocities.

The outgoing South Korean President, Kim Dae-jung, described the war as an unhappy historical event, angering veterans at home who, like their counterparts in the US and Australia, have pointed out that they were forced to go to war.

See also:

16 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
23 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
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