(AFP) – South Korea’s army and police chiefs both offered to resign Tuesday over separate cases that have triggered widespread public criticism and allegations of negligence and incompetence.
Army Chief of Staff Kwon Oh-Seong offered to step down over the death of a bullied soldier which shone a critical spotlight on the mistreatment of young conscripts
National Police Commissioner Lee Sung-Han also tendered his resignation, apparently over the bungled police manhunt for a fugitive business tycoon wanted in connection with April’s ferry disaster that left 300 dead.
It was not immediately clear if either resignation had been accepted.
Kwon’s offer came during a meeting with Defence Minister Han Min-Koo, a ministry spokesman said.
Kwon expressed regret and apologised for the death of the 23-year-old private, identified by his surname Yoon, saying he “feels responsible”, the spokesman told AFP.
“I hope this kind of incident will never happen again,” the army chief was quoted as saying.
Private Yoon died in April following an alleged assault by five soldiers, during which he was struck in the chest, causing a chunk of food to get lodged in his airway. He died of asphyxiation.
The five have been arrested on manslaughter charges after an initial investigation showed the private had been repeatedly bullied.
The case came on the back of two separate suicides by army privates last month, and a deadly shooting spree in June in which a sergeant killed five members of his unit for taunting him.
Investigators found Yoon had been the target of regular bullying and assaults, including sessions of crude water-boarding.
He had also been forced to eat a tube of toothpaste and lick the spit of other soldiers from the ground. Investigators are also looking into allegations he was sexually molested.
Barrack-room bullying has long tainted South Korea’s military service, which is mandatory for all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 35.
Conscripts, most of them in their early twenties, account for the lion’s share of the military’s 690,000 active personnel.
Police Commissioner Lee’s offer to resign appeared to be triggered by criticism of a nationwide three-month hunt for wanted businessman Yoo Byung-Eun.
Late last month it emerged that police had actually recovered Yoo’s decomposed body on June 12, but it had not been identified despite various clues that clearly pointed to Yoo.
Yoo, 73, was the patriarch of the family that owned and operated the Sewol ferry which sank April 16.
He went on the run after ignoring repeated summonses for questioning over lax safety standards and regulatory violations.
“I plan to quit as the police are responsible for many problems,” Lee told reporters.