Army chief applies for discharge after being found to have treated soldiers like slaves

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Army chief applies for discharge after being found to have treated soldiers like slaves

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Park Chan-ju

Gen. Park Chan-ju, chief of the South Korean Army’s 2nd Operations Command, who has been embroiled in allegations of abuse of authority through slave-like treatment of soldiers assigned to him, was revealed to have applied to be discharged.

The Center for Military Human Rights Korea revealed Wednesday a soldier assigned to the commander’s residence had attempted suicide in 2015 after accumulated stress from the extreme demands from Park and his wife.

Earlier this week, the center revealed reports that soldiers assigned to the commander served essentially as servants to him and his wife and endured slave-like treatment.

Park’s wife allegedly forced soldiers assigned to the residence of the commander to do household chores including laundry, ironing, cleaning the toilet, gardening and cleaning up toenail clippings and dead skin debris.

The couple was also alleged to have made soldiers wait on them during meal time, standing outside the dining area and serving them dessert, according to the center. One such soldier had to wear an electronic bracelet and wait to be summoned by the pair around-the-clock. When a bell was pressed either on the first-floor dining table or second-floor living area, the bracelet would vibrate.

Park’s residence was a two-story building that spanned some 160 pyeong (5,693 square feet).

The military-rights center said that the couple would go off on verbal tirades if the soldier was late to respond or hurdle objects at them, such as rotten fruit.

These residence-assigned soldiers were even told to wait on Park’s son when he was on vacation. One soldier was said to have forgotten to serve the son jeon (Korean pancakes) and Park’s wife allegedly threw the jeon at the soldier’s face.

An Army commander can be assigned up to three so-called housekeeping soldiers, who work at his residence and cook or act as chauffeurs. The system is considered to take into consideration that Army chiefs often live separately from their families.

The soldiers assigned to Park’s residence were said to have been constantly monitored and questioned if they hid their smartphones in their bathrooms. One soldier was even forced to attend church, despite being a Buddhist.

The center further revealed Wednesday that one soldier assigned to Park while Park had served as vice chief of staff of the Army between 2014 and 2015 also suffered similar abuse at the hands of Park and his wife. It stated, “The difficulties that the household soldiers suffered under such a brutal working environment are very serious.”

On one occasion, Park and his wife ordered one soldier to fetch an item, but when he failed find it, the stress he felt at the thought of reporting that he had failed was so great he attempted suicide in 2015. A military aide prevented the suicide.

“Luckily a tragedy was prevented,” the center said, adding, “but the commander couple risked a life because of their acts.”

This soldier was transferred to a different unit, according to the center.

Park was said to have applied for discharge earlier this week.

“Because I could no longer endure the remorse I feel for damaging the honor of the Army, which I have dedicated myself to for the past 40 years,” Park said in a statement according to the Korean Army on Thursday, “I have applied to be discharged. Separate from applying to be discharged, I will comply faithfully with the Ministry of National Defense’s audit.”

BY OH WON-SEOK, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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