By Bae Ji-sook
More than 3,400 prisoners and ordinary civilians were killed by South Korean military and police during the Korean War (1950-1953), a state-run audit body said Monday.
This is the first time a government agency has acknowledged the massacre of civilians during the war.
According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Counterintelligence Corps of the Headquarters of the Army, correctional officers and local and military police killed the prisoners and civilians in Busan and nearby areas from July through September in 1950, just after the war broke out. The commission has managed to identify 576 of the victims thus far.
In Busan, about 1,500 prisoners and members of the ``Bodo League'' (National Guidance Alliance), whose members were classified as leftists and even communists, were killed. They were reportedly dragged to nearby hills or valleys to be shot or were thrown into sea without any legal procedure. In nearby Masan and Jinju, in South Gyeongsang Province, 717 and 2,100, respectively, were killed in a similar manner.
The commission said the authorities feared they would unite with the North Korean communists if the region had fallen into the hands of the enemy. Many of the prisoners back then were ``prisoners of conscience'' standing against the conservative Syngman Rhee administration.
``Though it was an emergency period for the country, simply killing people out of fear is a clear crime. Besides, these areas were never battlefields during the war,'' the agency said. It labeled the case an ``unprecedented inhumane act.''
The commission will further investigate the case.
The agency advised the government to make a public apology to the bereaved families, support related memorial events and publish materials about the massacre and strengthen human rights education at schools.
The Bodo League was established in 1949 by the administration to keep an eye on its political opponents. However, it has long been alleged that many of its members were innocent farmers and civilians who lacked knowledge of ideological conflicts but were forced to register.
It is said the number of members reached over 300,000 in early 1950 and 200,000 of them were allegedly killed during the war.
On Feb. 14, a local court ordered the government to pay 20 billion won in compensation to the bereaved families of the massacre of league members in Ulsan. It was the first time the government was asked to pay compensation for civilian victims of war crimes.