Army captain’s suicide raises gun control issues

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Army captain’s suicide raises gun control issues

A South Korean active-duty army captain defected from his unit and committed suicide with a rifle yesterday, prompting criticism of lax weapon management in the military.

Under the current law, Korea bans private ownership of all firearms in the country and restricts soldiers from leaving a base with a gun.

The 34-year-old captain, surnamed Jeong, who was serving in Yeoncheon, Gyeonggi, killed himself in the hallway of an infantry academy quarters yesterday at around 3:20 a.m. in Jangseong, South Jeolla, after having a quarrel with a woman there.

The 26-year-old woman, Kim, was also an active captain serving in a local unit there. She heard a gun go off outside her room and found his body in the hallway. The Army said that he used a K-2 rifle that he brought from his unit, along with about 30 bullets.

“We had a shooting drill yesterday [Wednesday] morning and Jeong didn’t return his rifle,” an official from the Korean Army told reporters at a briefing yesterday.

“An officer found that there was a missing rifle and a soldier called Jeong to return it. But Jeong said that he was just too busy to return it, and that he would do it soon. The officer didn’t report that,” the official said. “Jeong worked for an operation office that manages all ammunitions, so he could take them out without approval.”

Military officials said that the two captains were in service together at the unit he served in Yeoncheon until the end of May. However, the female captain moved to an infantry academy in Jangseong, South Jeolla, starting from June for a two-month training program, and she couldn’t dedicate herself to the relationship.

Jeong defected from the unit Wednesday night and drove by car to the unit in South Jeolla, which is located 360 kilometers (223 miles) from his unit. He met with Kim at her quarters and they had a fight.

“Some assume that they were in a relationship, but it’s difficult to say,” the army official said. “Jeong just showed up at her room and asked her to be his girlfriend, but she said no.”

Even though he drove a considerable distance, he was not detected or pursued by military guards. The Army said that even after ten hours his absence went unnoticed.

“We know that this case revealed problems in managing ammunitions and rifles,” the army official said. “So we will set out a package of measures to prevent further cases and tighten discipline of senior officials in managing those weapons.”


By Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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