DP Calls for Reinvestigating Yongsan Clash
20 Tenants Indicted, Police Immune From Responsibility
By Kim Rahn
The opposition Democratic Party (DP) Monday called for a reinvestigation of the tragedy that claimed the lives of five tenants and a police officer in a deadly clash over a redevelopment in central Seoul.
The reaction came out after the prosecution announced the indictment of 20 tenants for a recent clash with police over a redevelopment plan in Yongsan, Seoul, saying the paint thinner and Molotov cocktails they used in the protest were the main cause of the fire which killed the six.
They cleared police of any responsibility or wrongdoings over the incident. Despite the conclusion, it is still unclear whether President Lee Myung-bak will be able to have Kim Seok-ki, chief of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency who was in charge of the police operation, get a parliamentary nod as the National Police Agency head.
The main opposition Democratic Party criticized the prosecution, saying it covered up the truth, and added it will seek a National Assembly naming of an independent counsel to look into the case.
``We cannot accept the prosecution announcement highlighting the innocence of police and guilt of the protesting tenants. An independent counsel is the only way to reveal the truth,'' the party spokesman Noh Young-min said.
A Cheong Wa Dae official said the President will not make an immediate decision about whether to withdraw the designation of Kim as the top police chief. But it is rumored that Kim may have to voluntarily step down from the nominee post, to accept moral responsibility for the death of the six victims although he may not be legally accountable.
Floor leader Hong Joon-pyo of the governing Grand National Party indicated the governing party will not accept an opposition call for naming an independent counsel but said Kim should resign to take moral responsibility.
The prosecution indicted five tenants with physical detention on charges of obstructing police in the performance of their duty and accidental homicide of an officer. Fifteen others were indicted without detention, as they did not participate in the protest as actively as the former five.
The tenants began a sit-in Jan. 19 on the top of a building there to protest the redevelopment project of the district. The next day, police sent a SWAT team to evict them, but a fire broke out and killed six.
``The direct cause of the tragedy is the fire that broke out because the Molotov cocktails, which the tenants threw at SWAT officers, exploded and spread to the paint thinner, which they used to make the firebombs,'' prosecutor Jung Byung-doo at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office said after concluding the investigation, Monday.
But the prosecution was unable to pinpoint who threw the Molotov cocktails. ``All the tenants there should take the responsibility for the illegalities as accomplices, as they covered their faces with masks, prepared the inflammables in advance and staged the sit-in together,'' Jung said.
As to the claim that police' hasty and excessive tactics caused the tragedy, the prosecution said the operation followed standard procedure and they were not responsible for the fire.
``From Jan. 19, the protesters illegally occupied the building with the inflammable material and threw Molotov cocktails at police and down onto the street, threatening public security. We acknowledge that police could not wait until the tenants use up the firebombs and had to mobilize the SWAT team in order to stop them as soon as possible,'' Jung said.
He said the tenants caused the fire, so police were not responsible for it.
The prosecution also indicted two workers of a demolition company who fired water at the tenants with a fire hose on charges of violence, without physical detention. Five other workers were indicted for burning tires on the third floor of the building before the operation and making toxic smoke rise up to the tenants on the rooftop. But Jung said there was no evidence that these private workers joined in the police action.