SEOUL (AA) – South Korean President Park Geun-hye attempted to quell public concern for the wellbeing of military conscripts Tuesday by calling for the “exemplary punishments” of those behind the death of a 23-year-old private in April.
The conscript surnamed Yoon choked after allegedly being hit while eating snacks in his barracks — four fellow soldiers are directly accused of being involved in the beating, among a total of 16 officers facing punishment.
Park told a Cabinet meeting of her concern that previous measures have failed to root out bullying in the military — as highlighted by other high-profile cases, such as June’s shooting spree by another bullied conscript at a front-line unit near North Korea.
Regarding the death of Private Yoon, Park urged “a thorough probe into all assailants and abettors.”
Given that every able-bodied man has to serve around two years in the military, Park also aimed to reassure parents by addressing the need for a human rights education program for soldiers and students.
Public anger has been further fuelled by claims of an attempted cover-up, as reflected by main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy leader Park Young-sun’s comments at a party meeting Monday: “The case would never have been known unless a civic group held a press conference last week. If the military came clean and came up with preventive measures, we could have prevented the shooting spree.”
Defense Minister Han Min-koo admitted Monday that he not been briefed about the Yoon case until last week, but offered a public apology during a televised address, insisting that “the suspects and those who just sat idle face the sternest punishment that the military law allows.”
While the regiment chief in question has already been relieved of his post, local news agency Yonhap cited a senior army officer as claiming Tuesday that the four main suspects could have their charges elevated from manslaughter to murder within the next few days.
It was also claimed that sexual harassment charges have been brought against a sergeant as the scale of the tragedy continued to unfold — and that Yoon was reportedly beaten nearly 100 times per day along with being subjected to acts of humiliation.
A court ruling was delayed Tuesday, according to the defense ministry, in order to allow a further investigation.
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