South Korea to probe military plan to quell Park protests

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – South Korea’s President has ordered an investigation into a revelation that the military drew up a plan to mobilise troops if protests worsened over the fate of his impeached predecessor last year, officials said yesterday.

Military intervention in civilian affairs is an extremely sensitive issue in South Korea, which was ruled by army-backed dictatorships for decades before achieving democracy in the late 1980s. During the harsh rules, authorities occasionally proclaimed martial law and other decrees that allowed them to station combat soldiers, tanks and armoured vehicles on streets or at public places like schools to prevent anti-government demonstrations.

The latest controversy over military intervention flared last week when a ruling party lawmaker disclosed a document showing the military planned to use troops to maintain order if rallies either opposing or supporting conservative then-President Park Geun-hye grew violent after a Constitutional Court ruling on her impeachment over a corruption scandal.

The Defence Ministry later confirmed the existence of the document, which was written during the final weeks of Park’s presidency by its intelligence arm, called the Defense Security Command.

Current President Moon Jae-in, during a visit to India on Monday night, ordered his defence minister to establish a special team to investigate the document, Moon’s spokesman Kim Eui-kyum told reporters in Seoul yesterday.

File photo shows South Korean protesters hold up candles during a rally calling for South Korean President Park Geun-hye to step down in Seoul, South Korea. – AP

The investigation team won’t be supervised by Defense Minister Song Young-moo and will be allowed to operate independently for a fair probe, Kim said. Later yesterday, Song expressed “deep regret” over the document, saying he’ll sternly deal with any act of illegality over the case in line with law.

Before the court ruling in March 2017 that eventually upheld Park’s impeachment and formally drove her from office, South Korea was embroiled in its worst political turmoil in decades.

Millions had taken to the street to call for Park’s ouster in largely peaceful demonstrations, but there had also been vehement protests supporting Park.

Under the document, the Defence Security Command assessed that anti-Park protesters would call for a “revolution” if the court rejected Park’s impeachment. Pro-Park forces, for their part, would consider the court’s confirmation of Park’s impeachment a “rebellion”, according to the document provided by the office of lawmaker Lee Cheol-hee.

The document said either group of protesters could use firebombs in street rallies, set fire to police stations and steal guns there, and try to occupy the Constitutional Court’s building and the presidential place if the court didn’t rule to that group’s satisfaction.