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Korea Opposition Eases Stand on Reform Talks : Says Freeing Detainees, Restoring Civil Rights Are Not Preconditions

July 08, 1987|SAM JAMESON | Times Staff Writer

SEOUL, South Korea — The main opposition party, taking a major step back from confrontation with the government of President Chun Doo Hwan, softened its preconditions Tuesday for negotiations on South Korean constitutional reform, saying that it will not refuse to begin such talks until all detainees are released and the civil rights of all dissidents are restored.

"The release of every political detainee and the restoration of civil rights for every dissident are not our preconditions to start interparty negotiations" on constitutional reform, Kim Tae Ryong, spokesman for the Reunification Democratic Party, said in a statement.

Last Saturday, Kim Young Sam, the party president, and Kim Dae Jung, his political ally, said that there could be no such negotiations until all political prisoners are released.

To Continue Demand

But spokesman Kim said Tuesday that the party will enter into constitutional talks while continuing to demand the release of all political prisoners. He said the party will begin negotiations with the ruling Democratic Justice Party as soon as it completes its own proposals for constitutional reform. This is expected next Tuesday. The ruling party has already announced its readiness to begin negotiations next week.

No explanation was offered for the opposition's turnabout. But the government, which until Saturday had been talking about releasing some of the 1,100 people it has classified as political prisoners, said Monday that it is considering clemency for many of the approximately 2,400 political prisoners and people whose civil rights have been suspended.

Korean newspapers reported that as many as 2,100 of them will be freed or that their civil rights will be restored. An announcement is expected at almost any time.

The list of 2,400 includes prisoners convicted a decade ago, under President Park Chung Hee, who was assassinated in 1979.

The opposition movement moved ahead Tuesday with plans for a funeral of national dimensions for a student killed in last month's public disorder.

Tens of thousands of South Koreans are expected to turn out for the funeral for Lee Han Yol, 21, a Yonsei University sophomore who died Sunday of head injuries inflicted June 9 when he was hit by a tear-gas canister. The services are to take place Thursday on the university campus here and in Kwangju, Lee's home town, about 165 miles south of Seoul.

Police officials refused to say whether they will permit the students to carry Lee's body through Seoul and on to Kwangju in a motorcade. By law, all acts of public assembly must be approved in advance, and such approval is rare.

The display of sympathy for the student, who lay in a coma all through the 18 days of public protest that brought promises of reform from the Chun government, could bring on another clash.

Renewal of Tension Feared

There is fear that the burial ceremony in Kwangju, the site of earlier disorder, will renew the tension between the government and the opposition. It was in that city seven years ago that Chun put down, at the cost of at least 194 lives, a violent protest against the military coup that had given him control of the country.

Throughout Tuesday, thousands of mourners paid tribute to the slain student. Altars have been set up at three places in Kwangju. Wreaths from Kim Dae Jung and the Reunification Democratic Party have been placed at an altar in the Kwangju YMCA.

The Kwangju branch of the National Coalition for a Democratic Constitution, which is organizing the rites in Kwangju, said it expects 10,000 students to come to the city from Seoul and that they are expected to join about 50,000 residents of Kwangju in paying respects to Lee.

The coalition, which includes clergymen, politicians and dissident groups, organized the rallies last month that sparked the massive demonstrations against the government.

67 From Party to Attend

In Seoul, the Reunification Democratic Party announced that all 67 of its representatives in the National Assembly will attend Lee's funeral. It also donated $6,250 to Lee's parents.

Over the protests of Lee's parents, students at Yonsei University decided Tuesday to conduct the slain student's funeral as a "National Democratic Funeral for Lee Han Yol." The parents, fearing that a massive funeral might precipitate violence, had urged a modest ceremony.

Woo Sang Ho, chairman of the university's Student Council, told reporters that the broader service had been decided on so as to include all members of society.

Students plan to carry the coffin from the university to City Hall Plaza, the downtown area where important foreign visitors often receive the accolades of tens of thousands of citizens, and then take it by motorcade to Kwangju. Ceremonies there are to continue late into the evening.

Lee will be buried in the cemetery that contains the remains of many of the victims of the 1980 Kwangju uprising.

The National Institute for Scientific Investigation confirmed that metal fragments found in Lee's head were from a tear-gas canister. National Police Headquarters, which had already acknowledged police responsibility for Lee's death, on Tuesday dismissed Kim Su Gil, chief of the police district where Yonsei University is located.

On Monday, the police opened an investigation seeking to determine why a gas canister was fired into the crowd rather than into the air over the people's heads, as regulations specify.

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