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Decades-old decree against protesters could be abolished.

The Ministry of National Defense is taking steps to abolish a decades-old decree empowering the President to mobilize the military to crack down on protests in certain areas.

The ministry is facing allegations that it had planned to suppress candlelit protestors by force last year.

The suspicions surfaced Tuesday when Rep. Rhee Cheol-hee of the Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) unveiled military documents, which stated that the ministry planned to quell millions of protesters who took to the street demanding the ouster of scandal-tainted then-President Park Geun-hye. The military denied this.

"After conducting in-depth investigations into military units a including the Capital Defense Command, Joint Chiefs of Staff and special forces a we found no evidence that the ministry planned an armed crackdown on street protestors," an official from the ministry's inspection unit said in a media briefing, Thursday.

"The claim (that the ministry planned to mobilize armed forces to suppress protestors) is not true," he said. "As we did not have plans to mobilize troops and found no links between the documents and the candlelit protest, we wrapped up our investigation by securing statements from working-level military officials."

But the ministry said it will consider whether to acquire statements from then-Defense Minister Han Min-goo after a thorough review. Rhee has particularly called for the former minister to make public a detailed explanation over the allegation, and unveil why the documents were written and who ordered him to write them.

This came a day after the ministry countered the claim by saying that the documents were not written about quelling the candlelit protest, but for the outbreak of rare situations such as the protesters marching into military facilities.

The ministry said a group of fourteen internal investigators and two computer forensic officials made a thorough inspection into the allegations for 12 days from March 8. It said "no statements or documents have been found to clearly support the claim over its plan for the armed crackdown on protestors.

The controversy raised calls that the government should abolish the presidential decree for the garrison which was enacted in 1965. At that time, the country was under the dictatorial reign of former President Park Chung-hee who seized control of the military by staging a military coup.

As the issue is rapidly making headlines across the country, the defense ministry pledged to repeal the controversial decree.

The defense ministry said the decision came as it considers the decree "unlawful and outdated."

Kim Hyun, spokeswoman of the DPK, said the party welcomes the decision as the decree can go into effect without approval from the National Assembly.

"The garrison decree does not require approval from the Assembly to mobilize troops, while martial law needs the lawmakers' consent," she said. "This has so far posed a serious threat to democracy in Korea."

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Publication:The Korea Times News (Seoul, Korea)
Date:Mar 22, 2018
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