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(2nd LD) Senior military leaders face disciplinary action over NK soldier defection

All Headlines 15:40 October 15, 2012

(ATTN: CHANGES headline, lead; UPDATES with more details about disciplinary action, background; ADDS photo)

SEOUL, Oct. 15 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's military announced sweeping disciplinary action against 14 Army generals and senior officers Monday, holding them responsible for failing to detect a North Korean soldier's defection through the heavily armed border and mishandling situation reports.

Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin also issued a public apology over the undetected defection early this month of a North Korean soldier through the heavily armed border, which is considered one of South Korea's biggest security failures in recent years.

"I acknowledge that the North Korean soldier's defection apparently shows the failure of security and flaws in the emergency reporting system. I sincerely apologize for causing worries," Kim said during a press conference held at the defense ministry. "The military has failed to promptly inform the people, causing confusion."

The military has been under strong criticism for failing to detect the Oct. 2 crossing, especially following revelations that the North Korean soldier was taken into custody only after he knocked on the entrance to a front-line unit on the eastern section of the border.

Initially, military officials said the North Korean had been detected by surveillance cameras and guided to safety, but a joint investigation team discovered that the defector made his way through rows of barbed wire fences dividing the two Koreas.

Regarding speculation over the absence of surveillance camera footage from the time, a special investigation team confirmed that the camera was not working at the time of the incident and there was no proof of deletion.

Considering the seriousness of the incident, Kim said he will sternly punish military commanders and senior officials over the incident and thoroughly investigate flaws in the security and reporting system.

According to Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Lee Young-joo, who was in charge of the probe, five general-grade officials and nine mid-level officers at front-line units as well as officers in the Joint Chiefs of Staff will face disciplinary actions.

It is the biggest punishment in the military to date regarding border security failure.

The latest move came after President Lee Myung-bak censured the defense chief last week over lax military discipline and urged him to punish those responsible for the incident, which is considered one of South Korea's biggest border security failures in recent years.

The ministry said the military will increase the number of soldiers guarding the border and install surveillance systems in guard posts and the border fences to beef up security. It will also adopt advanced security systems in three front-line units by next year, it said.

Though defection across the border is considered rare, two other soldiers from the communist nation have made their way across the heavily armed border this year alone.

Just four days after the Oct. 2 defection, an 18-year-old solider defected Saturday after reportedly shooting two of his officers to death. Earlier, a third North Korean soldier crossed the land border into the South on Aug. 17, waving a white flag, an international symbol of capitulation.

The two Koreas remain technically at war as the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.


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