S. Korea to hold state funeral for late ex-President Roh

October 27, 2021

South Korea decided Wednesday to hold a five-day state funeral for late former President Roh Tae-woo, the country’s last general-turned-leader credited for foreign policy achievements but also blamed for his involvement in a military coup and the brutal crackdown on a pro-democracy uprising.

President Moon Jae-in expressed condolences over Roh’s death but noted the deceased made “not a few historical faults.” Moon will not visit Roh’s funeral altar in person due to his busy schedule and decided to send his chief of staff instead, officials said.

Moon’s measured message, which came a day after Roh died at age 88, suggested that soul-searching had taken place to determine the right balance between paying respect to a late predecessor and public sentiment critical of Roh’s dark legacy.

Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum unveiled the state funeral decision during a Cabinet meeting earlier in the day, saying that Roh made significant contributions to the nation’s development as the 13th-term president.

“With Cabinet members, I express my deep condolences on the passing of former president Roh Tae-woo and give my sympathy to his family members,” Kim said. “The government will hold a state funeral and thoroughly prepare it with respect so that people can pay tribute to his contribution.”

Kim, who will head the state funeral committee, and other Cabinet members will visit the funeral altar of Roh later Wednesday.

The interior ministry said the state funeral will run for five days through Saturday, with a burial site soon to be determined after consulting with Roh’s family.

This photo, taken Oct. 27, 2021, shows the funeral portrait of former President Roh Tae-woo at a funeral parlor at Seoul National University Hospital in Seoul. (Pool photo) (Yonhap)
Roh Jae-heon, the son of former President Roh Tae-woo, pays tribute to his father at a funeral altar at Seoul National University Hospital in Seoul on Oct. 27, 2021. (Pool photo) (Yonhap)

This photo, taken Oct. 27, 2021, shows the funeral portrait of former President Roh Tae-woo at a funeral parlor at Seoul National University Hospital in Seoul. (Pool photo) (Yonhap)

“Although Roh has historic faults regarding the Dec. 12 coup and the May 18 Democratic Uprising, we considered that he made a contribution with his Northward Policy after being elected through a direct vote and made efforts to pay his fine,” the ministry said in a statement.

Under law, a state funeral will be held if a former, an incumbent or a president-elect dies. The law, however, does not specify whether a state funeral will be possible if they commit a grave crime, like a military coup.

But the ministry said Roh will not be buried in a national cemetary as he does not qualify under a law which stipulates that those convicted of a crime and who served a prison sentence are not eligible for burial in a national cemetary.

Roh’s family earlier said they are looking to bury the deceased in the border town of Paju, north of Seoul.

For a state funeral, the government pays expenses for running Roh’s memorial altar as well as send-off and burial ceremonies.

Roh rose to prominence after helping former President Chun Doo-hwan seize power through the 1979 military coup in the wake of a political vacuum created by the death of former authoritarian President Park Chung-hee.

Chun’s junta was accused of ruthlessly cracking on the 1980 uprising in Gwangju, leaving more than 200 dead and 1,800 others wounded, according to conservative official data.

Some lawmakers of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and civic groups voiced opposition to a state funeral for Roh, citing his role in the military coup.

“If the Republic of Korea holds a state funeral for a main culprit of mutiny, it will be self-denial of the Republic of Korea,” said Oh Gi-hyoung, a DP lawmaker, in a Facebook post.

However, some officials from the conservative main opposition People Power Party (PPP) supported the state funeral for Roh.

“There may be a heated debate over a historical figure, but I hope this can be an opportunity to have a culture of respecting former leaders of the country with a way that can signify dignity matching the country’s status,” said PPP floor leader Kim Gi-hyeon.

The city of Gwangju said it will not hoist a flag at half-mast and install a memorial altar for Roh during the state funeral period for the sake of its citizens and those deceased from the May 18 Democratic Uprising.

Meanwhile, Roh Jae-heon, the late president’s son, on Wednesday unveiled the will of his father, saying the former Army general asked for forgiveness from victims of the military’s brutal crackdown in the May 18 Democratic Uprising in his last will.