Removal of tower discussed before
Prior to its decision to remove a tower at a military borderline unit just 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) from the North Korea, the Marine Corps consulted with the Ministry of National Defense over the ramifications of tearing down the structure, anonymous military sources said on Sunday.
The symbolic tower, which was strung with lights and used for decades to illuminate the demilitarized zone (DMZ), was located on Aegibong Peak in Gimpo, northern Gyeonggi.
Multiple sources from the military said on the condition of anonymity over the weekend that officials from the 2nd Division of the Korean Marine Corps met with Defense Ministry officials in charge of North Korea policies a number of times last year to discuss the tower’s removal.
Those statements contradicted earlier reports that the Marine Corps had unilaterally decided to remove the 43-year-old tower without going through the chain of command within the Defense Ministry.
“Marine Corps officials judged [late last year] that taking town the tower needed approval by the Defense Ministry beforehand because over the past few decades, the tower had been used as a tool in a psychological warfare campaign [against North Korea],” a Marine Corps official said, adding that Defense Ministry officials had not objected to the structure’s removal.
The official explained that the Marine Corps discussed the issue with ministry officials because the Gimpo City Government had planned to take down the tower early this year. However, it delayed its removal in March due to budgetary limitations.
“The city tried not to intervene because [it feared] it could cause further controversy. But it’s true that the Marine Corps has been somewhat falsely accused [of making a unilateral move],” said a Gimpo city official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The Marine Corps came under fire after it was reported that President Park Geun-hye had been kept in the dark about the decision to tear down the tower and subsequently angered by the news.
Following those reports, the military claimed that the commander of the 2nd Division of the Marine Corps unilaterally tore down the tower for safety reasons out of judgment that it could collapse on Oct.16 without discussing the matter to his chain of command.
The findings over the weekend, however, are expected to raise questions that the ministry was trying to shift blame for the decision onto the Marines.
The removed tower, an 18-meter-high steel structure, was built in 1971 atop the Aegibong Peak, which is 165 meters high and located just 3 kilometers from North Korea.
The structure was lit every Christmas season, and largely represented the psychological warfare campaign against Pyongyang.
When lit, the lights are visible even from Kaesong, and North Korea has consistently demanded that the South remove the tower, which it called an object of “propaganda.”
After the two Koreas’ militaries agreed to cease propaganda activities near the inter-Korean border in June 2004, the South stopped lighting the tower.
The lights, however, were turned back on in December 2010, after two deadly provocations by North Korea - the sinking of the South Korean Cheonan warship, which killed 46 sailors, and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island later that year.
Amid the ongoing controversy, a conservative religious group has said that it wants to build a new tower to continue on with the holiday display.
The Christian Council of Korea said in a statement issued on Friday that it would begin to explore ways to erect another tower at the border unit.
It added that it had not initially objected to the tower’s removal because it believed it was a presidential decision.
The Marine Corps said on Sunday that it had not received a formal construction request from the group.
BY YOO SEONG-WON, KANG JIN-KYU [email@example.com]