South Korean soldier's beating death forces investigation of mil - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

South Korean soldier's beating death forces investigation of military

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One man’s beating death leads to a closer look at the abuse in the ranks of South Korea’s military. (Source: Ahn Mi-ja/CNN) One man’s beating death leads to a closer look at the abuse in the ranks of South Korea’s military. (Source: Ahn Mi-ja/CNN)
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(CNN) – Like most South Korean mothers, Ahn Mi-ja was worried about her son starting his military service, stationed so close to the North Korean border.

But the enemy was far closer than she could have imagined. The 20-year-old conscript was beaten to death by his peers, a horrifying catalogue of abuse that lasted 30 days, unnoticed by his superiors.

Ahn shows photos of her son Yoon Seung-joo on his last day of training. Twenty years old and proud to be starting his compulsory military service, his mother pins his badge to his lapel and wishes him luck.

The next time she sees him, he lies dying in a hospital bed.

“It's like swallowing needles looking at these photos. My heart just bursts,” Ahn said.

The military says Private Yoon died from choking on food, unable to explain the extensive injuries to his body. The next day, they admit he was beaten while eating. But it was months before a military human rights group revealed the true extent of his abuse.

“This wasn't just one time,” she said. “It happened over 30 days, continual abuse, sexual harassment, making him lick phlegm from the floor, eat his own vomit - the military didn't tell us about any of that.”

The military denies a cover-up, but does acknowledge systematic abuse by some of Yoon's peers – abuse that was not picked up by superiors. Bullying in South Korea's military has been a problem for decades, the spokesman says it's a knock-on from school.

“We have a helpline - he tells me - so you can talk to the military investigation unit to prevent emergencies like this. But Yoon did not make one single call - I feel very bad about that,” South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said.

According to the Human Rights group, a witness in the same barracks says Yoon was told his family was at risk if he spoke up. The same witness reported the abuse to a superior, but nothing was done.

Six soldiers are now on military trial, Yoon's mother wants them to be charged with murder.

“During the trial - she says - I was close enough to touch them, but my heart stopped and I became speechless, they're not human. I wanted to do to them what they did to my son,” Ahn said.

The military has since made some changes: parents can call and visit more often, leave is more flexible and barracks are being updated.

But an Army survey carried out in April as part of this investigation found almost 4,000 previously unreported cases of abuse, suggesting a problem the military thought they had a grip on may be far more widespread than feared.

Copyright 2014 YTN via CNN. All rights reserved.

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