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2017-11-16 17:06
Military’s response stirs controversy

There are lingering controversies regarding the shootings Monday by North Korean guards at a fellow soldier who defected to South Korea through the Joint Security Area (JSA) at the truce village of Panmunjeom. The solider remains in critical condition from gunshot wounds and is undergoing treatment at the Ajou University Hospital in Suwon.

First is whether the firings by North Korean soldiers at the JSA in the border zone constitute a violation of the armistice agreement. The North Korean soldiers fired some 40 shots southward. It is the first time since 1984 that North Korean troops fired at the southern side of Panmunjeom.

It needs to be clarified whether they continued to shoot after the solider entered our territory. The government should lodge a protest against North Korea if future investigations find at they continued to fire after the defector crossed the Military Demarcation Line (MDL).

There is also the question of whether not firing back at the North Korean soldiers was appropriate. During a briefing at the National Assembly Tuesday, Defense Minister Song Young-moo said that our soldiers made a good judgment call to minimize conflict and dealt with the case in an appropriate manner. However, the military has been hit by public criticism for not firing back at the North Korean soldiers.

The justification for not firing back is that the South Korean troops were acting in accordance with the the United Nations Command (UNC) rules governing the area. Returning fire may have escalated into an all-out battle, which should be avoided. Such a confrontation will develop into a grave national security situation. It is a relief that no South Korea or American soldiers were hurt during the incident.

In 2004, South Korea took over the duty of maintaining security inside the JSA from the U.S. forces stationed in Korea. But the South Korean troops are not allowed to use military force unless approved by the UNC.

President Moon Jae-in noted the need to enable South Korean troops at the JSA to counter attacks by North Korea. The suggestion is worthy of consideration. They should be able to decide to at least fire warning shots in a similar situation. The incident should be the start of eradicating problems owing to the current commanding system at the JSA.

There are also lingering questions about the military’s response to the situation. The Joint Chief of Staff and the Ministry of National Defense have said different things about their findings of the case, which gave the impression that they were trying to hide something and evade responsibility over a lax security posture. This kind of attitude hampers the people’s trust in the military.


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