Gov’t land mine response criticized

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Gov’t land mine response criticized

Questions have arisen over the Blue House’s strange response to the Aug. 4 land mine explosions in the demilitarized zone that maimed two soldiers, with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle criticizing the government for proposing talks with North Korea right after the attacks.

Criticism has also surfaced over what critics say was a slow response by the Blue House to arrange a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) which took place on Aug. 8.

“Our soldiers were injured on Aug. 4 and it took four days for the Blue House to arrange for the NSC to meet?” said Rep. Baek Kun-ki of the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, a former four-star general, during a party meeting at the National Assembly on Thursday. “The Defense Ministry vowed stern action in retaliation on Aug. 10. Can this be called the swift response?

“If the presidential office had been briefed on the incident on Aug. 5, the NSC meeting should have been held right away on that day,” stressed the former general.

The fact that the Ministry of Unification, which oversees inter-Korean activities, proposed high-level talks with North Korea on Aug. 5, a day after the blasts, raised questions whether information had been properly shared. Defense Minister Han Min-koo’s comment on Wednesday that he had no knowledge of when President Park Geun-hye had been briefed on the incident reinforced doubts over a coordinated response.

The fact that President Park did not mention the mine explosions Monday during a meeting of senior presidential secretaries on the same day the military announced the outcome of its joint probe with the UN Command, raised questions over whether Park had been told of the matter at all.

So far, Rep. Yoo Seong-min has been most critical from the ruling Saenuri Party about the government’s response, going so far as to say in a harsh tone, “What were people at the NSC doing?” during parliamentary questioning of the defense chief on Wednesday.

Yoo was the Saenuri’s floor leader before he was pressured by the Blue House to resign last month.

The Blue House said Wednesday that Park had been briefed about the explosions on four occasions prior to the Ministry of Defense’s official Monday announcement.

Park was first told of the Aug. 4 incident about two hours after it happened. The second briefing was made the following day with presidential national security advisor Kim Kwan-jin telling Park that North Korea was the likely culprit.

The third briefing was on Aug. 8, with a confirmation that the North was behind the mine blasts. The fourth one was made the following day with the military’s plan for countermeasures, according to the presidential office.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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