[EDITORIALS]A general speaks out of turn

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[EDITORIALS]A general speaks out of turn

The Ministry of National Defense has relieved Major General Han Cheol-yong of his command of an intelligence unit, but has begun investigating his allegation. General Han testified to the National Assembly that his unit's warning of possible military provocation by the North in the Yellow Sea in June was ignored by his superiors. The Defense Ministry and the Millennium Democratic Party have been downplaying General Han's testimony but appear to be serious about punishing him for disclosure of classified intelligence and his possible ties with the opposition party.

But as far as the public is concerned, the focus must be on whether Defense Ministry officials including the minister, Kim Dong-shin, ignored the 5679 Unit's report of signs of possible North Korean military actions. The armed forces are responsible for protecting the country and for being prepared to do so. If the report was regarded as unimportant, it is a serious lapse in national defense. The defense leadership is obliged to check out any report that suggests possible provocations by the North. So the issue is whether Defense Ministry officials could be held responsible for the clash that took the lives of military personnel. Whether General Han disclosed classified information and his relationship with the opposition are secondary. The key questions are whether the report was ignored or downplayed and, if so, why.

Another important question is whether General Han violated the military chain of command. If the report was unimportant and the commander was at the National Assembly accusing his seniors of negligence, then it represents a lapse of organizational command. But if the leadership ordered that the report be killed in consideration of the government's "sunshine policy," then General Han's action can hardly be called insubordination.

What is outrageous is that the military is split -- the majority siding with the former minister and the minority supporting General Han. Investigators must not leave these contradicting claims out of the investigation. Resolving these questions is the beginning of the prevention of further military provocations by the North.
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