South Korean soldier sentenced to death over shooting spree

South Korean soldier sentenced to death over shooting spree
South Korean soldiers run during a search and arrest operation near the area of a standoff between troops and a conscript soldier who shot and killed five comrades in Goseong June 23, 2014.

SEOUL - A South Korean military court on Tuesday handed down a death sentence to a young conscript who killed five colleagues in a shooting spree at a guard post near the border with North Korea last year.

The court martial in the eastern city of Wonju condemned the 22-year-old sergeant, surnamed Lim, to death for committing what it called "premeditated and cruel" killings, Yonhap news agency said.

Lim remained silent, keeping his head lowered throughout the sentencing.

The case will now go to an appeals court and then to the Supreme Court, an automatic procedure in South Korea in the case of death sentences.

South Korea has not carried out any executions under its death penalty since 1997 following international pressure, with such sentences effectively translating into life in prison.

In his pre-sentence statement on January 23, Lim said he was deeply remorseful for his actions.

"I feel deeply sorry for the victims and their relatives," Lim said in the statement.

"I am overcome with remorse... How happy would I be, had it been merely a dream and had it been possible to return to the past?"

In June last year Lim threw a grenade and opened fire on members of his unit, killing five and wounding seven, near a frontline guard post.

He was captured alive after he wounded himself in a failed suicide attempt following a 24-hour standoff with thousands of troops.

Lim, who was listed as a soldier requiring special observation, told investigators he carried out the attack in revenge for constant mockery and harassment against him.

Barrack-room bullying has long tainted South Korea's military service. It has been blamed for numerous suicides and incidents where conscripts have turned their weapons on their comrades.

Conscripts, most of them in their early twenties, account for the lion's share of the military's 690,000 active personnel.

In 2011 a 19-year-old marine conscript killed four colleagues on a western island near the border. Eight soldiers were killed in 2005 when a conscript threw a grenade and sprayed bullets over the sleeping men at a frontline guard post.

In both cases the men were court-martialed and sentenced to death, although the penalty was not carried out.

In October last year, an army sergeant was sentenced to 45 years in prison for beating a private to death, while four other soldiers received jail terms of up to 30 years.

Prosecutors said the private had been subjected to regular bullying and assaults, including sessions of crude water-boarding.

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