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Stepping out of the shadow

SOUTH Korean President Roh Tae Woo is having trouble escaping the shadow of his predecessor. A few weeks ago that former leader, Chun Doo Hwan, made a public apology for wrongdoing during his eight years in office. The apology didn't, however, silence calls for a full investigation of corruption and human rights abuses during the Chun years. Now the President has announced a shuffling of the Korean Cabinet to jettison Chun holdovers. But the changes don't satisfy the opposition, whose leaders point to the continued presence of former military leaders in the government, some with clear links to the widely reviled Mr. Chun. Mr. Roh is himself a former general, and was a close colleague of Chun's since their student days.

So the question remains, how can Roh distance himself enough from the former dictator to win the breadth of public support needed to lead Korea beyond preoccupation with its militaristic past?

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A full public investigation of the charges against Chun could be one unavoidable step for Roh. Nothing less is likely to put the Chun question to rest. Arrests of Chun's relatives, charged with robbing the public till, have only heightened public outcry to bring the former President to justice. The investigative process may bring things to light that feed the controversy instead of quell it - but that risk may have to be taken.

Opposition leaders such as Kim Dae Jung say they want only a full accounting, not a formal prosecution of Chun.

And Roh will have to follow through on pledges to remove the country's powerful intelligence agencies from political surveillance. Last week the Cabinet drew up a bill to accomplish this. The proposed legislation now goes on to the parliament for final approval. This step should help Roh. But his appointment last week of Park Sae Jik as head of the National Security Planning Agency (the Korean central intelligence agency) is seen as a setback: Mr. Park was a deputy chief of the agency under Chun.

It's doubtful that Roh can do anything to quiet his most vocal critics - the students who regularly take to the streets to call for Chun's execution and Roh's resignation. To them he'll always be Chun's chosen, and thus tainted, successor.

But Roh was duly elected last December - though largely because the opposition couldn't unite. And he has brought the country quite a few steps along the rough road to democracy. If he can now take it some more, he may help strengthen the Korean people's faith in democracy and take the agenda-setting power away from the fire-bombers in the street.

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