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Opposition presidential candidate pushes for volunteer military system

All Headlines 17:23 August 24, 2012

SEOUL, Aug. 24 (Yonhap) -- Kim Doo-gwan, a candidate competing to win the opposition ticket for the upcoming presidential race, said Friday he will press ahead with his plan to introduce a volunteer military system to help establish peace on the divided Korean Peninsula.

The 53-year-old candidate of the main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) pledged earlier this week to slash the country's armed forces by more than half to around 300,000 personnel, prompting critics to question the plan's viability in the face of a 1.2 million-strong North Korean army just across the border.

South Korea's military is one of the world's largest standing armed forces, with 650,000 active duty personnel, and all healthy South Korean men between 18 and 35 are conscripted into the service for about two years.

The two Koreas remain technically at war, as the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty. Tensions have run high on the peninsula in recent years, after a total of 50 South Koreans were killed in 2010 in the sinking of a warship and an artillery attack on a border island in the Yellow Sea. Seoul said both provocations were carried out by the North.

Speaking at a news conference at the National Assembly in Seoul, Kim stood firm by his initial pledge, saying he will carry out the reform even if he is accused of being pro-North, which could cost him votes.

"Conservative media outlets are saying that I am trying to cut the military in half and (misleading the public into thinking) I am putting our security at risk," he said. "In order to prevent a war, (we must) build a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula and strengthen the military. A volunteer military system will meet both conditions."

The former governor of South Gyeongsang Province said he has launched a task force within his campaign committee to work out the details of the plan, which he aims to fulfill by 2017 if he becomes president. By law, a South Korean president can serve a single five-year term, and the winner of the Dec. 19 vote is scheduled to take office next February.

Kim claimed his plan for a "preemptive" arms reduction will help revive inter-Korean dialogue and economic cooperation, which have been significantly reduced under the conservative Lee Myung-bak government.

He also said a volunteer military system that pays well and offers future benefits in education and employment will motivate people to join the armed forces, while those who are not interested will be able to contribute to the economy in other ways.

Addressing possible concerns about a smaller number of personnel, Kim argued that the strength of a country's military is no longer determined by manpower, but rather by the strength of its economy and level of technology.

Kim is competing with three other candidates in the DUP's presidential primary, which officially kicks off on the southern island of Jeju on Saturday. Public opinion polls have usually put him in third place after Moon Jae-in, a former chief of staff to the late liberal President Roh Moo-hyun, and Sohn Hak-kyu, a special adviser for the party.

hague@yna.co.kr
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