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S. Korea ups defense budget by 4.9 pct for next year

South Korea has finalized its 2015 defense budget that calls for a 4.9 percent increase from this year to improve the welfare of servicemen and enhance combat capabilities, the defense ministry said Wednesday.

Next year's defense spending has been set at 37.4 trillion won (US$33.6 billion), accounting for some 9.9 percent of the nation's total budget of 375.4 trillion won passed Tuesday by the National Assembly. The ministry had originally sought a 5.2 percent rise.

Of the total defense budget, 26.4 trillion won has been set aside for troop maintenance which includes the improvement of their service environments in the wake of a series of tragic incidents at barracks. It represents a 4.9 percent hike from this year.

The remaining 11.1 trillion won has been earmarked for efforts to boost defense capabilities, or a 4.8 percent increase from this year.

The focus of next year's budget increase is on improving barracks life, according to the ministry.

The military has decided to spend 23 billion won to renovate old facilities to help service personnel serve their military duty under better conditions. 

Some 7 billion won will be earmarked to implement a pilot project at some front-line units to have private companies take charge of maintenance jobs supposed to be done by soldiers. This is aimed at reducing their work burden and to allow them to focus more on their primary duty.

The military also plans to spend 1.2 billion won to deploy cellphones at units to help soldiers communicate more easily with their family and friends, according to the ministry.

The moves are part of the government's efforts to reform the overall military culture and to promote soldiers' welfare. The rigid military culture has been blamed for a string of fatal incidents at barracks this year including a shooting spree by an enlisted soldier and the death of an Army draftee who had been bullied.

Measures to improve military capabilities include building an indigenous air defense system, the Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD), according to the officials.

"The confirmed amount for improving defense was 151.8 billion won less than what the government sought, but none of the projects will be affected by the curtailed budget," an official of the Defense Acquisition Program Administration said.

South Korea faces the communist North across the world's most heavily fortified border. The two Koreas are still technically at war as the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. (Yonhap)

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