SEOUL, South Korea — The defense ministry said Thursday it will abolish a controversial unit composed of conscripted celebrity soldiers as criticism grew over special treatment and their commitment to military service under a lax system.
The so-called "entertainment soldiers" serve in the Defense Media Agency (DMA), a unit that has provided programming for TV and radio broadcasts to promote a positive image of the military since 1997.
All able-bodied South Korean men serve about two years in the armed forces as the country is technically still at war with North Korea.
The special service system has been bombarded with public criticism after several celebrity soldiers were caught on video in late June while drinking and entering massage parlors after performing in a provincial concert hosted by the ministry.
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The ministry conducted a special audit following the incident and on Thursday announced disciplinary actions for the soldiers as well as their seniors.
"We feel a grave responsibility for the lax management of the Defense Media Agency and decided to scrap it in light of the audit results," the ministry said in a release.
Eight soldiers will face disciplinary actions for violating the code of conduct, while three of them who used cell phones — which are banned for soldiers — will receive a heavy punishment, the ministry said.
Five officials at the agency were disciplined, and six others received warnings, it noted.
A total of 15 soldiers under the DMA will be relocated to other Army units.
For military TV and radio programs and events, the ministry will recruit civilian professionals or select talented soldiers if necessary in the future, it said.
The military's alleged special treatment of celebrities has frequently been the subject of criticism as several celebrities serving military duty were seen as enjoying more freedom than ordinary soldiers.
Earlier this year, K-pop star Rain was in trouble when he was caught on camera while on a date with a top actress during his service and faced disciplinary action.
The military service is a highly sensitive issue in South Korea where political candidates lose elections because they or their sons have not served in the military. Some celebrities and athletes have been arrested and forced into near exile after getting caught evading the draft.