Leading S. Korea Dissident Discloses Plan to End Exile : Kim Dae Jung Gets Support of Sen. Cranston

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Times Staff Writer

Leading South Korean dissident Kim Dae Jung--referred to by some Koreans as “our equivalent to Aquino”--announced Friday that he will return to Seoul on Feb. 8, ending a two-year exile in the United States.

The longtime political opponent of South Korea’s successive military-dominated, authoritarian regimes appeared at a press conference in Los Angeles with Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) and acknowledged that he faces an uncertain future at the hands of the regime led by former general Chun Doo Hwan.

“I am not sure whether I may be in prison, or under house arrest,” the 59-year-old politician said at the Sheraton-Town House. “My purpose is to participate with my people in the struggle for restoration of democracy.”


Kim said he came to Los Angeles from his Washington area home to reveal the specific date of his return, and to make his last public appearance in America, because the Southland has an estimated 250,000 Koreans, the largest number in one location outside the Orient.

Made Many Speeches

Over the last year, he has made about 200 speeches to both Americans and Koreans around the United States to publicize his cause and, perhaps, to guarantee his safety.

“I hope not to be another Aquino case,” he said, referring to the Philippine opposition leader Benigno S. Aquino Jr., who was assassinated in 1983 as he returned to Manila after a three-year exile in the United States.

“It would be an abomination should he be returned to a prison cell,” Cranston said of Kim, adding: “I think South Korea should be aware that any untoward incidents could have a very bad effect on American-South Korean relations and could have a very damaging effect on the prospects of holding the (1988) Olympics in South Korea.”

Cranston was one of more than 70 U.S. congressmen and senators who have asked the South Korean government to ensure Kim’s safety.

The Reagan Administration was instrumental in persuading the South Korean government to commute a death sentence Kim received in 1980 for sedition, and in securing his subsequent release to the United States, ostensibly for medical treatment, in December, 1982.


So far, through a State Department spokesman, the Administration has expressed only a hope that Kim’s return will be “trouble-free.”

“I have never asked the American government to protect me,” Kim said Friday. “We’re asking the American people to give us moral support. We’ll do the rest.”

Most Los Angeles Korean community residents who were interviewed about Kim expressed fear of being quoted publicly, saying that they fear reprisals against relatives still in South Korea or repercussions to their local business interests. The Korean community is very close-knit, they said, and those loyal to the current regime are powerful locally.

One local businessman who helped arrange Kim’s visit, and who also asked that his name not be revealed, said planning for this weekend had been difficult.

Large, $400 banners placed around Los Angeles’ Koreatown to advertise a Saturday night speech Kim plans to make at the Olympic Auditorium disappeared after they were put up, he said. In the last few weeks, he added, his car has been repeatedly vandalized.

But one local attorney, Tong S. Suhr, said of Kim: “He’s sort of a symbol of the opposition.”


As an advocate of democratic reform in South Korea, Kim narrowly lost a presidential election in 1971 to former Korean President Park Chung Hee.

He publicly advocated a free press, direct elections, tighter controls on business and local governmental autonomy.

In all, Kim said Friday, he has survived four assassination attempts, been imprisoned four times, and spent a total of eight years under house arrest.

In 1980, Kim was sentenced to death for his alleged role in an uprising in the provincial capital of Kwangju in which 189 people died. But the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment and then to 20 years.

Hip Injury Incurable

He came to the United States for treatment of a hip injury caused, he said, in a car accident that he believes was arranged by the government and intended to kill him. He still walks stiffly with a cane, however, and said he has learned that the condition is incurable.

After he arrived in the United States, he accepted a fellowship at Harvard University’s Center for International Affairs.


Parallels are often drawn between Kim and Aquino, local Koreans said, because the two men gained enough popular support for their criticism of restrictions on civil liberties in their respective countries that they were considered threats to the existing leadership.

Both were arrested for alleged subversive activities, sentenced to death, and then freed to travel to the United States for medical treatment. Both also accepted fellowships at Harvard.

“We were good friends,” Kim said of Aquino after Friday’s press conference.

Again he said, “I don’t want to be similar with his last fate.”

After a moment, he added: “I don’t think the Korean government would be so stupid.”

Still, he said, his future role is unclear.

Long before he left South Korea, he said, “I have been banned from participating in politics. I do not belong to any party.”

If he is not jailed, or placed under house arrest after his arrival in Seoul, he said, “I’ll be under some surveillance, and if people meet with me they will be in trouble.”

Still Has Support

But so far, despite a cowed Korean media, he added: “There has been communication, mouth to mouth, underground reports. There is still support. The South Korean government is afraid of my influence.”

Officially, South Korean officials have said only that “necessary” action will be taken on Kim’s return.