Investigations are under way into more than a dozen newly-reported cases of harassment, and physical and sexual abuse at barracks around the country, the Army said Wednesday, after a spate of such incidents marred the image of the military and sparked public ire.
The cases were detected during surveys of service members and inspections into units in the wake of the series of gruesome cases, including the death of an Army private first class, surnamed Yoon, after being hit by his senior comrades.
"The military police are looking into multiple incidents with the principle to bring those responsible for misconduct to justice," the Army's public relations chief Lee Bung-woo told reporters.
Three conscripts of a unit in the eastern border town of Hwacheon are among those under investigation. They allegedly sexually molested seven of their subordinates some 30 times between April and May by licking their necks and nibbling on their ears.
An Army corporal in the country's northern city of Pocheon is also suspected of beating up two of his junior colleagues and cramming flies into their mouths.
In a different unit in Hwacheon, a staff sergeant was reported for sexually harassing a corporal for about nine months from last August. He also faces assault charges as he allegedly shot five rounds of blanks at a senior colleague.
"This month alone, we've received a total of 758 reports of abusive cases at barracks through military hotlines for enlistees. It is a 26 percent increase from the previous month," Lee said.
The surge came after Yoon's case was brought to light belatedly at the end of July, he noted.
They are the latest incidents that have laid bare the military's decades-old rigid culture and side effects of its order-and-obey system to maintain tight discipline.
Dubbing the violence in barracks as "treason," the Army chief Gen. Kim Yo-hwan said it will launch "operations to root out violence at barracks."
"I will even take such strong measures as dismantling units which see a series of anti-human, grotesque behaviors and which fail to strive to improve the situation," Kim stressed.
As most of the suspects told the police that they did so "for fun" or "as an expression of friendliness," the Army has decided to strengthen military education and boost patrolling and inspection activities.
All able-bodied South Korean men are subject to compulsory military service for about two years in a country facing constant threats from North Korea, with conscripts taking up the bulk of the military's 650,000 active servicemen. (Yonhap)