Three S Korean soldiers dead in apparent suicides

Two Army corporals were found dead on Monday night in a Seoul apartment in an apparent double suicide, military authorities said Tuesday.

They belonged to the Army's 28th Division, which has been under intense public scrutiny since a private first class from the unit died earlier this year due to appalling abuse in his barracks in Yeoncheon, Gyeonggi Province.

Later in the day, another suicide occurred at a unit of the Army's Third Corps in Gwangju, Gyeonggi Province, adding to public concerns about the military's handling of vulnerable soldiers. A private first class apparently shot himself during a live-fire exercise.

The two in Yeoncheon apparently hanged themselves on the apartment's balcony in Dongjak-gu, southern Seoul, according to military officials and police. One of the corporals shared the apartment with his sister.

The corporals whose names were withheld from the media left notes that indicated they had suffered abuse at their barracks. One said in his note that he wanted to kill one of his seniors, while the other said his military life was "tough" and he could not endure it anymore.

The two went on leave on Aug 3 and Aug 6, respectively. One, who is originally from Seoul, was to return to his base on Monday ― the reason why military police began a search for him Monday night. The other from Gwangju was to return on Thursday.

Both were classified as "soldiers requiring extra supervision" after they exhibited suicidal tendencies during past personality tests, the Army said. They both have received psychiatric treatment because of difficulties adapting to military life, one on eight occasions and the other on seven.

The soldier from Gwangju, in particular, attempted suicide on his base last October. He also ran away from his unit the next month, but was captured eight hours later. Military officials said his unit sought to classify him as unfit for active duty, but failed to do so after his parents opposed the decision.

This soldier was also found to have told his juniors in June that he and his fellow corporal would commit suicide. Although his colleagues had learned about his suicide plan, it was not reported to higher authorities, Army officials said.

The bodies of the soldiers are at a military hospital in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province. The authorities initially sought to conduct autopsies to verify the cause of death, but decided not to as the bereaved families opposed it.

The double suicide came as the military struggles to stamp out mental and physical abuse in the barracks following a recent spate of violence cases including a shooting spree in June that killed five soldiers.

The case underscored the urgent need for the military to curb conscript suicides. This year alone, 47 soldiers have killed themselves.

According to military data, a total of 820 soldiers have taken their own lives since 2004. Between 2004 and 2008, the annual average number of suicides was 72.6, while the average figure between 2009 and 2013 was 82.2. Last year, the figure stood at 79.

To curb suicide and violence, the military has launched a campaign to improve what critics call "outmoded, closed" military culture. It is also seeking to strengthen counseling programs and human rights education at all military units.

In addition, the military is considering quickening the process of letting these soldiers leave service. The process usually takes about two to three months.

During an inauguration ceremony, new Army chief Gen. Kim Yo-hwan vowed to wipe out violence in the military.

"We can't achieve any unity among ourselves in the military should there continue to be beatings, abuse and verbal violence. Then we can't win in a war either," Kim said during the ceremony.


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