- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 23, 2009

SEOUL | Former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, 62, died in a fall while mountain hiking with an aide on Saturday morning in what appears to be suicide.

Mr. Roh, who held office from 2003 to 2008, died of head injuries after the fall from a mountain near his home in southeastern Korea, local TV news reports said.

Part of a suicide note, addressed to his family, was read on TV: “It has been so hard. I have caused people a lot of trouble. Don’t burn my corpse … make a shrine for me. I can’t even read a book nowadays. Don’t bear any grudge against me. For me, life and death are the same.”

A former human rights lawyer and the most left-leaning of South Korea’s presidents, Mr. Roh had been very unpopular while in power. But he survived an early impeachment and maintained respect for having run a clean administration - unlike previous South Korean leaders, who all have faced charges of corruption since leaving office.


However, Mr. Roh’s reputation was shattered last month when he was questioned by public prosecutors over allegations that he, his wife and his son had accepted some $6 million in bribes from a local businessman. Mr. Roh apologized, but maintained that he had not known of the bribes while he was in office.

With Mr. Roh pushing a soft line concerning North Korea, relations with the George W. Bush administration were often tense during Mr. Roh’s tenure, though he did dispatch South Korean troops to northern Iraq, making South Korea the largest contributor to the coalition after American and British units. He also presided over the signing of a free trade agreement with the United States, although that agreement remains unratified by either country’s government.

His administration continued his predecessor Kim Dae-jung’s “Sunshine Policy” toward communist North Korea. Mr. Roh’s biggest achievements in inter-Korean policy were the opening of the Kaesong Joint Industrial complex, using North Korean labor and South Korean management and capital, and his 2007 summit with the North’s leader, Kim Jong-il. His policies, however, did not prevent North Korea from testing a nuclear device in 2006.

Today, amid ever-increasing tensions between the Koreas, Kaesong’s future is uncertain, and the agreements reached between Mr. Roh and Mr. Kim have not been followed up. The current South Korean president, right-leaning former businessman Lee Myung-bak, has taken a much harder line toward Pyongyang, bringing North-South relations to what many observers consider the worst point in more a decade.

After the end of his presidency, Mr. Roh’s Uri (Our Open) Party collapsed and was replaced by the current main opposition Democratic Party.