21 July 2005

Terrorists, Infiltrators, Defectors, Deserters, Gangsters or Hooligans?

Yonhap reports that three men in their 20s with short hair, wearing tight t-shirts and dark pants, drove up to two South Korean soldiers on patrol near Donghae, Kangwon province at around 10:10PM July 20, asked the soldiers for directions, and then stabbed them (on in the arm, the other unknown at the moment), tied their hands with tape and threw them in the trunk of their car. The then drove them to a nearby Navy base, threw them out and took off toward Gangneung with one K-1 and one K-2 rifle (each with a 15-round magazine) and a walkie-talkie.

The timing of the incident (less than a week before the expected restart of the six-party talks) may simply be a coincidence, but the word “coincidence” always makes me nervous. At the moment, there are too many possibilities for the perpetrators – terrorists or North Korean infiltrators, ROK deserters or defectors, or even gangsters or college hooligans. The K1 at one point had a civilian version that still has a good resale value overseas.

The question that immediately comes to mind, however, is whether this has to do with North Korean agents or not. That they took the soldiers to the Navy base, and apparently didn’t do a really good job stabbing them, appears to belie this theory. The ease with which the three guys with knives overpowered two soldiers with loaded weapons may instead suggest some sense of cooperation – after all, the wounds weren’t too bad, and the soldiers may be sharing in the resale profits from the guns. But I wouldn’t take a knife to the arm for a 1/5 share of four or five hundred dollars and the chance of being caught.

So this seems to leave a youth gang, perhaps pining for the day they were in the military, or recently let out with nothing better to do? If they are just planning to resell the guns, it might be the end of the story. But given some of he tensions between US forces and ROK citizens recently, one can never be too careful. Certainly, though, this is going to turn into another scandal for the ROK military, which has certainly had its share this year. Maybe a ground-up review of military force structure is finally in the offing.

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