New policy on unexplained deaths of soldiers

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New policy on unexplained deaths of soldiers

Army officers whose cause of death remains unproven will be recognized as having died on duty under new regulations proposed by the Ministry of National Defense.

Fifteen years ago, Kim Hoon, a first lieutenant, was found mysteriously shot at the Joint Security Area demilitarized zone.

With the proposed regulation, Kim will be recognized as having died on duty, the Defense Ministry said

Kim was found dead from a gunshot to the right temple on Feb. 24, 1998 in the truce village of Panmunjom, a case that inspired the 2000 blockbuster “Joint Security Area” starring Lee Byung-hun and Lee Young-ae.

Following the mysterious death, the military police and prosecutors conducted three rounds of special investigations and concluded that the first lieutenant had committed suicide.

The handling of the case was criticized as being rushed and suspicions of homicide endured.

Kim’s family including his father, Reserve Forces Lt. Gen. Kim Cheok, requested a more thorough reinvestigation saying there was “no reason for him to commit suicide.”

Because Kim’s cause of death was deemed suicide, his family was not eligible for compensation from the state.

Last July, the Defense Ministry revised the cause of Kim’s death from suicide to an unclear status.

The ministry said Tuesday that under proposed regulations, army officers whose causes of death remain unclear will be recognized as dying “in the line of duty” following recommendation of the state’s rights watchdog, the Anti-Corruption & Civil Rights Commission.

“Military personnel who died under suspicious circumstances while performing official duties will be considered as having died in line of duty,” said a Defense Ministry official.

Those officers can be buried honorably in the National Cemetery and their families will receive compensation for their death.

Including Kim, there are 48 cases raised before the Presidential Commission on Suspicious Deaths in the Military.

By Jeong Yong-soo, Sarah Kim []
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