Last month the US government declassified images of thought-to-be communist sympathisers being massacred by  South Korean authorities between 1950 and 1951. Tackling a sensitive subject, the evidence throws more weight behind the argument that the US were partly to blame.

The Korean conflict acted as a trigger for the Cold War. The country, rescued from Japanese control following World War II, was divided in half and shared between two rival regimes - the communist-supported northern side and the "free world"-supported southern side. To separate the two halves, a line was drawn along the 38th Parallel north (circle of latitude), creating North Korea and South Korea. In 1949, South Korea created the National Guidance League (NGL), which recruited, by force, all suspected extreme left-leaning activists, in order to control any potential north-side sympathisers. Quotas were quickly set up for all NGL places to be filled, and to keep them at full capacity police forced thousands of farmers, many of them illiterate, to join the NGL, even though they had no link with the far left. Experts estimate that up until the North Korean invasion, the NGL recruited around 350,000 members.

When the north stormed its southern counterpart, marking the start of the war in June 1950, the southern authorities panicked. Fearing an insurrection from these hundreds of thousands of supposed left-leaning thinkers, the South Korean government ordered that they be got rid of. The members were massacred.

The commission at work

The following pictures were taken by South Korea's Truth and Reconciliation Commission during investigations.


Excavating a site at Cheongwon Bunteo Valley (August 2007).

 


The first remains found in Cheongwon Bunteo Valley (August 2007).

 


Skeletons found at a site in a district of Daejeon Sannae.

Photos taken by the US Army during the massacres

The following photos were taken by the American Army during the mass killings in 1950-1951. They were made public by the US National Archives and Records Administration on 5 May this year. They're part of a series of declassified images.

Korean officers shoot people in a pit (1951).

 

A genocide site in Chungju (29 October 1950).

 


Mass killings in Daejeon (July 1950).


The mass execution of South Korean political prisoners by the South Korean military and police at Daejeon (July 1950).

"At least 100,000 people were killed"

Nearly 60 years after the war, the South Korean government launched an enquiry into the massacred members of the NGL. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is today inspecting the graves, which were classified as "top secret" by Washington and Seoul up until now. Dong-Choon Kim is one of fifteen members of the commission, which is juridically independent from the government.

At least 100,000 people [NGL members] were killed. And this number is just part of the total massacred during the Korean War [at least two million civilians were killed during the conflict between 1950 and 1953]. The killings took place in several hundreds of places, but most of them have been damaged or have disappeared entirely over half a century's time. We can only certify the existence of around 50 graves now, seven of which were uncovered last year.

Our mission is limited to research and making recommendations for reconciliation. We haven't been ordered to punish those responsible or deal with compensating the victims. Most of the officers accountable and the chief of the police are already dead. Only low-ranking soldiers and policemen have made confessions. Although we're encouraging victimisers to confess and apologise, it's very difficult for them to actually do it. As a president, former head-of-state Roh Moo-hyun apologised to the families of victims of the April 3 Jeju incident and Ulsan National Guidance league incident. As for America's role in the massacres, it's quite a sensitive issue. We are trying to investigate it."