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Defense chief: No arms reduction

July 13,2018
Defense Minister Song Young-moo brushed off speculation that the South Korean military was reviewing arms reduction amid warming relations with the North and said on Thursday that the issue would only be discussed after Pyongyang completely denuclearizes and both Koreas build trust.

“It’s not time yet,” Song told reporters during a news briefing at the Defense Ministry’s headquarters in Yongsan District, central Seoul, to mark his first year in office.

Internal discussions about withdrawing troops from the border were held within the frame of defense reform, not out of consideration for North Korea, Song said. “I’ve never had that thought in my head, not even once,” the minister said.

Song’s remarks came after Yonhap News Agency, citing unnamed government officials, reported earlier this month that the South Korean military had suspended plans to renovate army bases within 5 to 10 kilometers (3 to 6 miles) of the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas.

The military reportedly intended to build new barracks and improve artillery positions, the officials said. Future military construction projects near the border would be subject to negotiation among relevant government agencies, they added.

The measure was interpreted to be an effort from Seoul to follow up on the Panmunjom Declaration signed between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during their first summit on April 27, in which both countries agreed to “transform the demilitarized zone into a peace zone.”

Song denied the Yonhap report and said North Korea’s stance had nothing to do with the South Korean military’s reforms.

The reform measures that the Defense Ministry is planning to announce later this month will focus on seeking a “balanced development” of the South Korean Army, Navy and Air Force, Song said. Administrative work will be handed over to civilians so that soldiers can focus on their duties in the battlefield.

The measures, Song cautioned, are not about convincing the commander-in-chief, President Moon Jae-in, to make decisions based on the military’s perspective but having the military accept his calls even if he lacks a thorough understanding of the military. Failing to hand over the country’s strategic decision-making to civilian leaders will only justify the military’s control over the nation, the defense minister warned.

Song refused to comment on an independent probe looking into allegations that the military’s intelligence unit under the former administration drew up plans to declare martial law in case the Constitutional Court decided not to uphold President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment last year.

The Defense Ministry said the investigation is likely to officially begin next week after Air Force Col. Jeon Ik-soo, who was appointed on Wednesday to lead a 30-member probe team, wraps up his decisions on personnel.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said on Wednesday that it was planning to separately dig into the case after the Center for Military Human Rights Korea, a Seoul-based nongovernmental organization, filed a criminal complaint against the military intelligence unit, the Defense Security Command.

BY LEE KEUN-PYUNG [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]