SEOUL, Dec. 27 (Yonhap) -- Starting next year, South Korea's rank-and-file soldiers will be allowed to go off base after work for several hours up to twice a month, in a policy change aimed at creating a more "liberal and creative" barracks culture, the defense ministry said Thursday.
The ministry also plans to ease restrictions on vacation destinations for troops after consultations with provincial governments and representatives of local communities, in a way that does not negatively affect their readiness posture.
In South Korea, all able-bodied male adults are obliged to serve in the military for about two years with strict exceptions.
Over the past year, the ministry has been trying to devise ways to improve the culture in the military barracks, which has long been criticized as too closed and repressive for draftees mostly in their early 20s.
Starting in February, troops will be allowed to leave their posts after work between 5:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. They can apply for their off-base time to meet their friends and relatives, get medical treatment, study or for other personal purposes.
Restrictions on destinations for troops' leave of absence will be relaxed based on a general-level commander's judgment in consideration of any impact on each unit's readiness posture and other circumstances.
The ministry plans to decide whether to allow all troops to use mobile phones in the first half of next year. Since April, it has allowed draftees in several units to use cell phones, which have been banned for security reasons, on a trial basis.
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