Outrage after draft notices sent to Sewol dead

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Outrage after draft notices sent to Sewol dead

The government is facing backlash for sending physical examination notices for military conscription to 92 victims who died in the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster or remain missing.

The Military Manpower Administration (MMA) explained Monday that it had sent notices on Jan. 6 to every man born in 1997, including the victims from Danwon High School in Ansan, Gyeonggi, who were killed or went missing in the Sewol ferry sinking because they were never officially registered as deceased.

The error was unprecedented, resulting from what appeared to be a lapse in communication following the accident due to a government-led overhaul to hold responsible all accountable parties.

By law, the public office handling a death case must immediately report to the regional director where the deceased is registered.

But in the case of the Sewol disaster, the head of the Korea Coast Guard was required to report to the mayor of Ansan in order to proceed with the death reports. However, the process was neglected amid a government-led structural reform that saw the Coast Guard dismantled a month after the disaster in light of its botched rescue attempts on the day of the incident.

In Korea, all men receive a notice for conscription when they turn 18 years old and are required to complete a physical examination and up to two years of military service by age 35.

The MMA said it had attempted to obtain a complete list of the victims from the disaster but had been unsuccessful.

“We have tried to exclude the victims killed or missing in the Sewol disaster in the mailing list since July 2014. But we had no choice but to send the notices because we could not secure a list of the victims,” the administration said.

The high school and the Office of Government Policy Coordination, it said, declined to provide the list, saying that doing so violated the Personal Information Protection Act.

“We didn’t send notices to the 27 victims whose deaths were formally registered,” the MMA said, adding there was no way for officials to check whether a recipient was deceased.

Following public outrage over the error, the MMA was able on Jan. 14 to access the victims’ list from the coordination office, which requested that the victims’ families consent to release the information.

The mishap sparked renewed public anger last week after Lee Jae-myung, the mayor of Seongnam, Gyeonggi, posted a message on his Twitter account relaying that a relative of one of the victims had cried through the night after receiving the notice from the MMA.

On Monday, the administration formally apologized to the families who lost their children in the disaster.

The Sewol ferry departed from Incheon for Jeju Island on April 16, 2014, with 476 people on board, mostly Danwon High School students on a class trip. But after sharp turn off the southwestern coast, the ship began to list and ultimately sank, killing more than 300 passengers.

The bodies of nine victims still remain unaccounted for, and they have yet to be officially declared dead.

BY JEONG YONG-SOO [kim.sohee0905@joongang.co.kr]

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