SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Ahn Mu-hun, a longtime Associated Press journalist who covered South Korea’s stunning economic rise from the devastation of the 1950-53 Korean War and its transition from dictatorship to democracy in the 1980s, has died at age 97.
Ahn’s son, Ahn Young-joon, an AP photojournalist, said his father died Monday evening at a nursing home in Goyang, near Seoul, after experiencing age-related illnesses for years.
Born in the North Korean town of Haeju in 1924, Ahn Mu-hun was among millions of North Koreans who fled to South Korea during the 1950-1953 Korean War. After studying economics at South Korea’s Korea University, Ahn briefly worked at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul before joining the AP as a writer in 1960.
His spent the next three decades chronicling a dramatic period highlighted by Cold War animosities between the Koreas, rapid industrialization that propelled South Korea into one of Asia’s biggest economies, and massive pro-democracy demonstrations that were violently suppressed by South Korea’s military leaders until they accepted free elections in 1987.
“He was a very hard-working reporter with a strong sense of responsibility, a person whom I loved working with,” said Paul Shin, a former AP writer. “We shared a period of dramatic change, when students were rallying in the streets demanding democracy while tear gas canisters flew around.”
In an interview after his retirement in 1991, Ahn recalled covering a 1980 democratic uprising in the southern city of Gwangju as his toughest assignment as a journalist. Hundreds were killed during a bloody crackdown by the government of then-military dictator Chun Doo-hwan which involved soldiers firing on citizens and tanks rolling down the city’s streets.
Because soldiers had cut off communication in Gwangju, Ahn said he needed to walk several kilometers (miles) to the town of Jangseong to file his stories and then sneak back into Gwangju for more reporting.
Before retiring, Ahn was able to spend two years working with his son, who joined the AP in 1989 and has now worked for the company about as long as his father did.
“I was out there taking photos of street protests while my father was writing the text stories,” Ahn Young-joon said.
Ahn Mu-hun is survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter. Funeral services are being held until Thursday at Myongji Hospital in Goyang.