South Korea rethinks alternative to conscription

Euronews24, 24 December 2008

SEOUL Reuters – South Korea's military indicated on Wednesday it would hold off on a plan for alternative service for conscientious objectors to the armed forces who are now jailed if they refuse conscription.

Military service of about two years is mandatory for all able-bodied South Korean men in order to field a fighting force strong enough to prevent North Korea's 1.2 million-strong army from attacking. The United States stations about 28,000 troops in the South to support its military.

South Korea' Defense Ministry released a survey on Wednesday saying that nearly 70 percent of the public was opposed to allowing alternative service. It has said the poll results would weigh heavily on its policy decision.

"We can understand it is still too early to allow alternative forms of military service for conscientious objectors," spokesman Won Tae-jae told a news briefing. The ministry had not yet made a final decision, he added.

The Defense Ministry has floated the idea over the past few years of allowing conscientious objectors to perform community service or a non-combat military related jobs.

But conservative and veterans groups have objected, saying it would encourage draft dodging and weaken the country's ability to deter North Korea, which on Tuesday repeated a threat to reduce the South to ashes.

About 300,000 men are conscripted each year into the South's military or riot police. But around 750 men annually refuse to join on moral grounds, often because they are pacifists.

They typically receive prison sentences of about two years. Criminal records make it difficult for objectors to find good jobs and the issue of army service is often raised by potential employers during job interviews.

Service starts at the age of 19, although recruits can defer for a few years depending on their family situation or study plans. For almost all young men, military service interrupts their studies at university or the start of their careers.

Reporting by Jon Herskovitz and Kim Junghyun; Editing by Nick Macfie
(South Korea rethinks alternative to conscription