NATIONAL

South Korea can’t change rules of engagement in JSA: Cheong Wa Dae

By Yeo Jun-suk
  • Published : Nov 16, 2017 - 15:34
  • Updated : Nov 16, 2017 - 15:34
 Presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said Thursday that South Korea has no authority to change the rules of engagement applied to the Joint Security Area amid controversy over its soldiers’ decision not to return fire at North Korean soldiers who were chasing a defecting soldier.

A Cheong Wa Dae official said the authority to change the rules falls under the United Nations Command. The UNC assumes operational control of the JSA, where the North Korean soldier had crossed toward the UNC-controlled area under about 40 rounds of heavy fire from his former comrades.

“We could raise our opinion, but we have no authority to change the rules,” the official told reporters under the customary condition of anonymity. “It’s under the authority of the UNC. The Defense Ministry doesn’t have a say in the matter.”

The remark came after the report that the Defense Ministry is seeking to consult with the UNC to apply South Korea’s own rule of engagement to the JSA when North Korea poses a direct threat to South Korean soldiers as they did during the incident Monday. 

Joint Security Area. Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald

Although the South Korean Army took over the duty of keeping security inside the JSA from the US in 2004, the authority over the use of force falls under UNC commander Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, who doubles as the commander of USFK and US-led Combined Forces Command.

The official also downplayed the remark by President Moon Jae-in, who told his presidential staff that a change to the rules of engagement is “worthy of discussion” after being briefed about the shooting incident Wednesday.

“It was more like raising his opinion, not issuing an order,” the official said. “He made observations from the perspective of average people. … Now that the president has made remarks, there could be further discussion with the UNC.

President Moon said that if North Korea fires its bullets across the border, the general public expects the rules of engagement to require South Korean soldiers to at least fire “warning shots” toward North Korean soldiers.

Located inside the 4-kilometer-wide Demilitarized Zone, the JSA is jointly overseen by the UN Command and by North Korea, with South Korean and North Korean border guards facing each other only meters apart.

Therefore, South Korean soldiers inside the JSA are not allowed to use military force unless their action is justified under the UNC rules of engagement applied to the JSA, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“The UNC commander considers two parts to determine whether such a response is appropriate: whether there is a direct threat to our guards and whether our response would escalate the situation,” JCS chief director of operations Gen. Suh Wook told lawmakers Wednesday.

The soldier, whose rank and identity have not been disclosed, underwent a second surgery Wednesday at a hospital south of Seoul. The surgery was “successful,” but he is still in a critical condition, according to doctor Lee Cook-jong, who performed the operation.

By Yeo Jun-suk (jasonyeo@heraldcorp.com)