May 18 (UPI) -- North Korea initially highlighted the Gwangju Uprising in state media, but then scrubbed the incident from its historical texts, a North Korean defector in the South said.
Thae Yong-ho, a former senior diplomat with the North Korean Embassy in London, said Monday, on the eve of the 41st anniversary of the uprising, that the spirit of the movement that began May 18, 1980, would "liberate the North Korean people" with its message of "democracy and freedom," the Dong-A Ilbo and South Korean network MBN reported.
Thae said North Korean newspapers extensively covered the pro-democracy movement in Gwangju at the time. The Rodong Sinmun described the uprising as "historic," Thae said.
The defector said he was a first-year student at Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies in May 1980, when he heard about the events unfolding in Gwangju.
North Korean television showed South Korean civilians armed with rifles running through the city.
During college lectures, Thae said his instructors claimed the uprising would "soon spread throughout the South."
"However, the May 18 Democratization Movement was suppressed on May 27," Thae wrote on Facebook. "The North Korean media reported Chun Doo-hwan's fascist military forces crushed the uprising."
After the crackdown in the South, Pyongyang's newspapers continued to express support for democratic activists. North Korea even produced a movie about the pro-democracy movement. The regime stopped mentioning Gwangju in official texts after the inauguration of progressive South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, however, Thae said.
"The authorities seem to have realized that the May 18 Democratization Movement in South Korea, which they thought would be an "asset" to the North Korean regime, was rather a 'liability' if it became known to the North Korean people," Thae said.
Chun, who reportedly ordered the massacre of civilians in 1980 after staging a coup and imposing martial law, has accused North Korean military forces of participating in the protests.
Chun's statement is false, South Korean investigator Heo Jang-hwan has said, according to the Korea Times.