Gov’t extends nonmilitary choices for conscripts

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Gov’t extends nonmilitary choices for conscripts

The government will continue to allow conscripts to choose to serve in nonmilitary duties such as riot police, prison guards and firefighters until 2015, officials at the Ministry of National Defense said yesterday.

Under a plan in 2007, the ministry had intended next year to abolish the so-called “alternative service” system in which compulsory military duty can be substituted with nonmilitary posts, amid an anticipated shortage of manpower at that time.

However, the delay comes as the military is experiencing a surplus of conscripts after the military service period for drafted Army soldiers was shortened by three months, to 21 months, officials said.

“The ministry will make a decision on whether to maintain the alternative military service in 2014,” said a ministry official.

Each year, about 300,000 young men are conscripted into the military, an integral part of South Korea’s defense against North Korea. The two Koreas are still technically at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with a cease-fire, not a peace treaty.

Of the conscripts, some 20,000 per year are mandated to serve as riot police, prison guards, firefighters and professionals for private companies.

If the alternative service system is abolished, the police, fire departments and other related authorities will have to formulate their own plans to meet manpower needs, officials said.

According to the ministry, there will be an extra 34,000 to 63,000 conscripts per year. The country is required to maintain a 650,000-strong military between 2012 and 2020.

The reduction of the military service duration, part of a 73-point, 10-year military reform plan unveiled by Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin early this month, is expected to eventually cut the number of soldiers to 500,000 by 2020, the ministry said.

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