A peace park funded by South Korean newspaper readers opened in Vietnam yesterday. Its existence symbolises Koreans' regret for wartime atrocities. Its low-key opening exemplifies divisions in Korea about the recent past. The Weekly Hankyoreh 21 newspaper behind the Han-Viet Peace Park said its opening 'reflects the deep-rooted grief of the Korean people over what happened during the Vietnam War'. Korean soldiers formed the second largest contingent, after the Americans, fighting against the communist-backed North Koreans. Yet no-one from Seoul's embassy attended the opening ceremony for the park in Tuy Hoa, in the southern coastal province of Phu Yen, and the embassy had no comment about the project. That may not be so surprising; President Kim Dae-jung has said that the two countries should focus on the future. Readers of the newspaper donated the equivalent of more than US$100,000 (HK$780,000) to the project after reading a series of articles about atrocities committed against Vietnamese civilians by some of the 300,000-plus South Korean soldiers who, over the course of 12 years, served alongside US forces in Vietnam. The park features a sottae - a wooden monument which in Korea symbolises sanctuary - and a Peace Museum. The latter was funded largely by 'comfort women' - Koreans forced into prostitution by Japanese troops who occupied the Korean peninsula from 1910 until 1945. The park 'will be a way of delivering [the Korean people's] heartfelt apologies to the people of Vietnam [and] . . . bringing to an end the ugly and regrettable history of the two countries', Hankyoreh 21 said. The issue of South Korean troops' conduct in Vietnam has rarely been discussed in either country. When Mr Kim called the war an unhappy historical event, some outraged South Korean veterans pointed out that they had been forced to fight. Vietnam has never raised with South Korea the question of compensation for atrocities. Despite communist Hanoi's close relations with North Korea, the government has developed a productive relationship with Seoul since the two established diplomatic relations a decade ago. Their militaries have recently forged links. South Korea is one of Vietnam's top investors, and gives it more overseas aid than it does any other country. Furthermore, Vietnam and Korea have several things in common - including Confucianism, authoritarian regimes and long periods of Chinese occupation. There has been some debate about why South Korea became mired in Vietnam for 12 years. The Australian-based Vietnam analyst Professor Carl Thayer points to the strong anti-communist streak in South Korea. He said in the 1960s South Koreans may also have still felt they owed a debt to the United States for its support during the Korean War - which ended only a decade before the Vietnam War began. With neither side willing to openly discuss the past, the push for conciliation is coming from the grassroots. The peace park bears testament to this.