South Korea's Army Chief Quits Amid Tension After North's Artillery Attack
South Korean President Lee Myung Bak accepted his army chief’s offer to leave the post less than three weeks after he replaced the defense minister following a North Korean artillery attack that killed four people.
The resignation by Army Chief of Staff Hwang Eui Don follows a Chosun Ilbo newspaper report on Dec. 9 that he may have made an improper property investment. An official at Lee’s office, who declined to be named because of government policy, wouldn’t say why Hwang offered to quit.
Lee’s acceptance of the resignation comes after he pledged to strengthen the military following North Korea’s Nov. 23 shelling of Yeonpyeong island and the March sinking of the Cheonan warship. Hwang was appointed in June as Lee replaced several four-star generals, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, following the sinking that killed 46 sailors.
“It’s all part of the government efforts to show how determined it is about revamping the military,” said Yang Moo Jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “The reshuffle of top posts could send a message that South Korea is serious about retaliating against any North Korean provocation when it says it will.”
Lee named Kim Kwan Jin as defense minister just three days after the artillery barrage, amid criticism the military’s response was inadequate. Kim said at his Dec. 3 confirmation hearing that he will use all military capabilities, including air strikes, if North Korea attacks again.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg is to arrive in Beijing today as the administration of President Barack Obama puts pressure on China to push its ally, North Korea, to change its behavior. North Korea has agreed to push forward with six- party talks on its nuclear weapons program, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Jiang Yu told reporters today.
North Korea’s commitment was made during Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo’s trip to Pyongyang last week when he met leader Kim Jong Il, Jiang said. The Dec. 9 meeting produced “important consensus,” China’s Foreign Ministry said at the time, giving no further details.
China has proposed to convene “emergency” six-party talks to defuse tensions on the peninsula, a call rejected by the U.S., Japan and South Korea. The forum, also involving Russia, last met in December 2008.
The assault on Yeonpyeong was North Korea’s first shelling of South Korean soil since their 1950-53 war, which ended in a cease-fire, leaving the Korean peninsula at a technical state of war. The shelling came eight months after the sinking of the Cheonan in nearby waters, which was also blamed on Kim Jong Il’s regime. The North denied any involvement.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Han Min Koo had also intended to offer his resignation before he was stopped by the defense minister, Yonhap News reported, without saying where it got the information.
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