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[Edtorial] Compensation for Yongsan Fire Incident

Posted December. 31, 2009 09:08,   


An agreement was reached yesterday 345 days after the Yongsan tragedy of Jan. 20. Arbitrated by the Seoul city government and religious leaders, the Redevelopment Association for the Fourth Yongsan District has agreed with a tenants’ group to pay for the funerals of the five deceased Yongsan residents and damages to their bereaved families and tenants. The funerals will be held Jan. 9 next year. The compensation amount is expected to reach 3.5 billion won (three million U.S. dollars). Though the two sides reached an agreement, they declined to disclose the amount of compensation, meaning they are not proud of the result.

Nonetheless, it is fortunate that a tragic and embarrassing event in Korea this year has seen resolution before the New Year. Related organizations seem to welcome the agreement. For their part, the central and Seoul city governments apparently sought to conclude the negotiations before year’s end because of next year’s provincial and municipal elections. The unexpected compromise, however, draws suspicion over why the negotiations dragged on for a year if it could have ended sooner. The dramatic agreement will be added to the list of cases in which unreasonable demands triumphs over rule of law.

In retrospect, the Yongsan tragedy happened when riot police attempted to suppress an illegal demonstration by protesters who gathered firebombs and bottles of paint thinner on the rooftop of a building scheduled for demolition. One police officer and five protesters were killed as a result. Firebombs are weapons of destruction. It is doubtful whether other governments abroad would be willing to provide compensation for protesters killed while using deadly weapons to resist police.

The tenants’ group blames the tragedy on excessive use of police force and wants the government to apologize, punish those responsible, and pay damages. Yet it refuses to hold funerals for the dead. The group’s decision to use violence could get them more money but it completely ignored etiquette for the deceased. The agreement has created an ironic result in which the dead receive huge amounts of damages but the survivors are sentenced to prison.

In October, seven protestors were sentenced to five or six years in prison, with a court ruling that the fire was caused by protestors throwing firebombs. “Protestors poured dangerous materials on riot police and threw firebombs at them as a last resort to push their demands. In other words, they violated the foundation of the country’s law and order. Accordingly, their behavior cannot be tolerated in a nation based on rule of law,” the ruling said. The tenants’ group and the defendants called the tragedy “a massacre of innocent citizens,” yet conveniently ignored how it was started.

The organization paying compensation to the bereaved families is not the government, but illegal activities, long-time protests, and politicking have won. Koreans should consider whether the agreement will help their society restore law and order.