21-year-old sentry kills himself after boat scandal

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21-year-old sentry kills himself after boat scandal

A sentry for the Army unit that failed to spot a small North Korean boat entering Samcheok Harbor last month committed suicide Monday.

According to the police and the Army Tuesday, the 21-year-old private first class jumped off Wonhyo Bridge in Seoul around 9:50 p.m. on Monday while on leave. He was rescued and sent to a nearby hospital but died.

The soldier was a member of the 23rd Infantry Division, which is assigned to the guard post closest to the breakwater of Samcheok Harbor in Gangwon, where a small North Korean wooden boat docked on June 15.

But his suicide may have been unrelated to the security breach.

The boat, carrying four North Korean men, managed to cross the eastern Northern Limit Line on June 12 and sailed in South Korean territorial waters for 58 hours until it moored in the harbor.

The military has apologized for the security breach but denied that it intentionally lied to media later to cover up its failures. At first, the military said the boat was discovered near the harbor after it drifted from North Korean waters, but the media quickly revealed the truth.

According to the military, the soldier was on sentry duty in the afternoon on June 15. The boat was discovered earlier that morning.

The police said no suicide note was discovered on the bridge, but the soldier left a note on his mobile phone saying he was having difficulty with life in the military in general. No specific mention of the failure to spot the North Korean boat was discovered, the police said.

The 23rd Division was investigated by the Defense Ministry in the wake of the June 15 security breach. Its commander was referred to a disciplinary committee for having failed to maintain proper defense postures.

“He was a low ranking solider, so he was not investigated,” a military official said. “We have made clear multiple times that soldiers won’t be held accountable for the latest incident.”

The official also said the soldier was on leave when his unit was investigated on June 24. According to the military, the soldier used annual leave days from June 22 to 28. Starting from July 1 to 9, he was on routine leave.

BY SER MYO-JA, LEE CHUL-JAE [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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