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(2nd LD) Defense minister vows stern measures against intelligence unit's wrongdoings

All Headlines 21:41 July 10, 2018

(ATTN: UPDATES with the unit's statement in last 4 paras)

SEOUL, July 10 (Yonhap) -- South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo assured the public Tuesday that an envisioned team of military prosecutors will look independently into alleged wrongdoings by the Defense Security Command (DSC), an influential unit tasked with collecting security-related intelligence and investigating anti-state activities.

The DSC reportedly considered ways to invoke a set of draconian decrees to control domestic security conditions last year, when then President Park Geun-hye was impeached.

Lawmakers voted to impeach her, bowing to weeks of massive protests highlighted by candlelight vigils, and the Constitutional Court upheld the National Assembly's decision.

The DSC is accused of having mapped out plans to curb street rallies expected to intensify in case the impeachment was rejected by the court.

The measures under consideration included the enactment of a garrison decree and a martial law to mobilize troops to maintain "social order."

It was also found to have inspected the families of people who died in the Sewol ferry sinking in 2014. Authorities' handling of the disaster caused public uproar at the time.

Related internal documents were leaked recently, containing details that were shocking to South Koreans proud of the rapid democratization and peaceful power transitions in their country. Their non-violent candlelight vigils against the Park government were internationally recognized.

Amid growing criticism of the DSC, President Moon Jae-in ordered a full probe into the allegations by an independent team of investigators.

He instructed the military to form a task force composed of military prosecutors with no Army or DSC background.

South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo in a file photo (Yonhap)

Hours later, the defense chief issued a statement expressing regret over the DSC scandal.

"In consideration of the gravity and seriousness of the case, the Ministry of National Defense plans to carry out the probe rigidly and fairly by creating an independent special investigation team separate from the (existing) military prosecution," Song said.

He said the head of the team will be appointed at the earliest possible date.

The minister pledged that he won't receive any report from the team until its probe has been completed, in order to guarantee its autonomy and that it will function without any outside pressure.

The DSC said it will sincerely cooperate with the investigation ordered by the president.

In a statement, it said the reported behavior is "very regrettable," although it occurred during when it was under the control of a former administration.

"(We) will undergo the probe with an active and responsible attitude so that clear facts can be discovered," the agency said.

It added it will continue tough reform efforts to break away from past malpractice and be reborn as a body that is strictly politically neutral with a focus on its original mission.

Later in the day, Chang Young-dal, the chief of a taskforce to revamp the DSC, vowed to pursue "bold reform."

"The DSC reform taskforce would never condone the DSC moving to reign over citizens in any case," he said in a statement.

"We will do our best for a complete reform that does not turn a blind eye to the surveillance of civilians, which is exploited by those with political power and any move by the military to behave as if they were in a privileged position," he added.

The defense ministry launched the taskforce in May to explore reform measures.

lcd@yna.co.kr
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