The Korea Herald


Series of conscript deaths raises concerns about military fatalities in S. Korea

By No Kyung-min

Published : June 24, 2024 - 17:03

    • Link copied

(Getty Images) (Getty Images)

A South Korean conscript was found dead Sunday at a military base in Gyeonggi Province, marking the third military death in just two months this year, raising concerns about the recurring issue of fatalities among enlisted personnel in the Korean military.

According to military authorities, the deceased soldier, a private first class -- the Army's second-lowest rank for conscripts -- in his 20s was found at around 5:00 a.m. Sunday when he was supposed to be on sentry duty. He had been stationed at the Army's 51st Infantry Division in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province, after completing boot camp less than a month prior.

Officials from the Gyeonggi Nambu Provincial Police Agency in charge of the case along with the Army Investigation Group, stated that an investigation is underway to look into possible bullying or abuse within the base. They said there were no signs of foul play at the scene.

This death follows closely on the heels of the deaths of two other conscripted soldiers in May.

On May 21, a conscript in his 20s died from a grenade explosion during a training exercise at the Army's 32nd Infantry Division in Sejong. Another conscript collapsed during a disciplinary training session in Inje, Gangwon Province, on May 23, where he was allegedly forced to perform physical exercise in full combat gear. He died two days later.

Approximately 200,000 young men must enlist to fulfill the mandatory military service each year, according to Statistics Korea. Since 1957, all able-bodied men of South Korean nationality aged 18 to 35 are conscripted to serve a minimum of one year and six months depending on the branch of the military.

Ninety-three South Korean conscripts died during their mandatory military service in 2022, the most recent year figures are available at Statistics Korea. Suicides accounted for the majority of these deaths, claiming the lives of 70 soldiers. Car accidents resulted in 6 deaths, while accidents involving aircraft or vessels took the lives of 5 soldiers.

Data from 1993 to 2022 shows that suicides have been a major cause of death in the South Korean military in general. In this period, 1994 was the year the military experienced the highest number of total deaths, 416, 155 of which were suicides.

In 2014, the death toll of 101 included five soldiers killed by a sergeant in a shooting rampage near the inter-Korean border in June. The worst internal military killing spree during the period occurred in 2005, when a soldier killed eight fellow soldiers and injured two others.