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(LEAD) Lee says presidential task force will be created for military reform

All Headlines 11:44 May 04, 2010

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout details; COMBINES related stories)
By Lee Chi-dong

SEOUL, May 4 (Yonhap) -- President Lee Myung-bak said Tuesday he will launch an ad hoc task force at his office to overhaul South Korea's national security system, which has been reeling from the deadly March sinking of a naval ship near the sea border with North Korea.

In an unprecedented meeting with the country's top military commanders, Lee vowed to take clear and stern measures against those responsible for the sinking of the Cheonan patrol ship near the western sea border with North Korea on March 26, as soon as the ongoing international probe is completed.

Lee also said he would create the new post of "special secretary for national security" as part of the effort to enhance national security.

"I will immediately form a tentative presidential organization to assess the national security posture as a whole and devise related measures," Lee said at the meeting, attended by more than 150 commanders of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force. It was the first time for a South Korean president to chair the meeting, which has been convened by the defense minister since the founding of the country's military in 1948, presidential aides said.

Lee said the task force will scrutinize the nation's defense capabilities, crisis management system, military reform drive, and other pending security-related issues and map out corrective steps.

Lee also said he will bolster the function of the "crisis management center" at the presidential office, Cheong Wa Dae, that has served as a control tower for responding to emergency situations.

Lee and the military leaders, clad in uniform, began the meeting with a moment of silence for the 46 sailors killed when the 1,200-ton Cheonan sank just south of the inter-Korean sea border.

Investigators have said the salvaged wreckage of the ship suggests it was broken in two by a non-contact explosion, raising suspicions that the disaster may have been caused by a North Korean torpedo or a sea mine.

Lee called the incident a grave international issue involving inter-Korean relations, saying that is why he ordered an investigation joined by foreign experts.

"A clear fact so far is that the Cheonan did not sink due to a simple accident," Lee said, pledging clear and stern countermeasures later.

The tragedy, one of the worst in South Korea's naval history, has brought the country's defense under scrutiny and media criticism.

Lee stressed that the Cheonan incident was a wake-up for South Koreans to the grim reality that they live next door to "the world's most belligerent nation."

"When this incident occurred, I had an intuition that it was a grave international issue involving South and North Korean relations," the president said in his 10-minute address, which was broadcast live. "And I instructed (the military) to find the cause through international cooperation."

Cheong Wa Dae said his remarks were a message not only for the military but also for ordinary people.

Lee called for a sweeping reform of the military which he said must address its traditional "vertical and bureaucratic organization."

"We have one thing to immediately undertake even before the cause is found," Lee said during the meeting, held at the defense ministry compound in Seoul. "It is to review our security posture across the board."

The president was to have a luncheon with the commanders after the morning session. The afternoon session will be chaired by Defense Minister Kim Tae-young and will be aimed at discussing lessons from the Cheonan incident and ways to prevent a similar mishap from recurring.

South Korean officials earlier said the incident will serve as a turning point in their nation's defense system.


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