Asia

In S. Korea, ex-vagrants want land promised for forced labor

  • In this Feb. 21, 2017, Chung Young-chul shows his rice field during an interview in Seosan, South Korea.  Chung takes a drag on his cigarette and watches as wild ducks fly across rice fields and land on a reservoir in this remote farming village. He’s among nearly 2,000 people - ex-gangsters, ex-convicts, former prostitutes, orphans - who were once imprisoned here, forced to work without pay for years and are now largely forgotten.(AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

    In this Feb. 21, 2017, Chung Young-chul shows his rice field during an interview in Seosan, South Korea. Chung takes a drag on his cigarette and watches as wild ducks fly across rice fields and land on a reservoir in this remote farming village. He’s among nearly 2,000 people - ex-gangsters, ex-convicts, former prostitutes, orphans - who were once imprisoned here, forced to work without pay for years and are now largely forgotten.(AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)  (The Associated Press)

  • This undated photo, released by National Archives of Korea, shows a mass wedding of 125 couples at a land reclamation worksite in Seosan, South Korea in the 1960s. Most of grooms were vagrants forcefully mobilized for the land project and their brides were former prostitutes sent from government-run shelters. Critics say late dictator Park Chung-hee, father of ousted President Park Geun-hye, wanted to clear city streets of vagrants and get them resettled elsewhere while using their labor to help rebuild the country from the ashes of the 1950-53 Korean War. Decades after their forceful works, ex-inmates now want to get to the land they were promised. (National Archives of Korea via AP)

    This undated photo, released by National Archives of Korea, shows a mass wedding of 125 couples at a land reclamation worksite in Seosan, South Korea in the 1960s. Most of grooms were vagrants forcefully mobilized for the land project and their brides were former prostitutes sent from government-run shelters. Critics say late dictator Park Chung-hee, father of ousted President Park Geun-hye, wanted to clear city streets of vagrants and get them resettled elsewhere while using their labor to help rebuild the country from the ashes of the 1950-53 Korean War. Decades after their forceful works, ex-inmates now want to get to the land they were promised. (National Archives of Korea via AP)  (The Associated Press)

  • In this Feb. 21, 2017 photo, Chung Young-chul, right, speaks as Sung Jae-yong listens during an interview in Seosan, South Korea. Decades after they were forcefully mobilized for land reclamation works, ex-vagrants in South Korea want to get back land they were promised. Critics say late dictator Park Chung-hee, father of ousted President Park Geun-hye, wanted to clear city streets of vagrants and resettle them while providing labor to rebuild the country from the ashes of Korean War.  There are 278 families who farm the reclaimed land in Seosan, including about a dozen ex-inmates, including Chung and Sung. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

    In this Feb. 21, 2017 photo, Chung Young-chul, right, speaks as Sung Jae-yong listens during an interview in Seosan, South Korea. Decades after they were forcefully mobilized for land reclamation works, ex-vagrants in South Korea want to get back land they were promised. Critics say late dictator Park Chung-hee, father of ousted President Park Geun-hye, wanted to clear city streets of vagrants and resettle them while providing labor to rebuild the country from the ashes of Korean War. There are 278 families who farm the reclaimed land in Seosan, including about a dozen ex-inmates, including Chung and Sung. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)  (The Associated Press)

Nearly 2,000 people including ex-gangsters, ex-convicts, former prostitutes and orphans were once held in a South Korean village and forced to work without pay for years, then largely forgotten. The few who remain now seek an investigation and compensation.

They were victims of social engineering orchestrated in the 1960s by dictator Park Chung-hee, late father of just-ousted President Park Geun-hye. His 18-year rule was marked by both a dramatic economic rise and enormous human rights abuses.

He cleared city streets of so-called vagrants and put them to work on land and road projects as free labor to help rebuild the country after the 1950-53 Korean War.

Former inmates at Seosan say they received so little to eat that they caught and ate frogs, snakes and rats.