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(LEAD) Defense minister urges intelligence unit to step up efforts to gain public trust

All News 21:26 August 04, 2018

(ATTN: ADDS Nam's comments in last 2 paras)

SEOUL, Aug. 4 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's defense minister urged an embattled military intelligence unit Saturday to stay away from politics and give up a sense of privilege in order to regain trust from the public.

Song Young-moo made the remarks during an inauguration ceremony for Lt. Gen. Nam Young-sin as the head of the Defense Security Command (DSC) in the unit's headquarters, south of Seoul.

"I came to stand here with a heavier mind than ever," Song said. "I am seeing you with a sense of urgency that the DSC should be reborn as one for the people."

"Loyalty, honor and justice that your unit has been aiming for should be directed only at people ... It is our people that you should be afraid of the most," he added.

The DSC has been the focus of criticism due to allegations of political interference. It has been under fire for allegedly drawing up plans for the potential imposition of martial law to crack down on public demonstrations last year demanding then impeached President Park Geun-hye's ouster.

On Thursday, the defense ministry's reform task force proposed a series of sweeping changes for the unit, including slashing its 42,000 personnel by 30 percent, which were regarded as "close to the level of the command's disbandment."

Song said that there will be reforms of the DSC's "closed" personnel system and that efforts will be made to streamline legal and institutional frames for the unit to focus on security and counterintelligence "in a normal manner and procedure."

Nam, the new head of the DSC, pledged to recover its tarnished image related to controversy over its political involvement, surveillance of civilians and sense of privilege.

"The current situation is a life-or-death crisis we cannot come out of alive without change," he said. "Only through bone-cutting efforts, I, the commander and you will be able to turn our unit into a security and counterintelligence special unit that receives full support from the people."

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