Troubled Army academy tightens cadet discipline

By Kim Eun-jung

SEOUL, Aug. 26 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's military academy vowed Monday to strictly enforce discipline among cadets and consider aptitude test scores when selecting candidates for military careers as part of reform measures to restore its tarnished image.

The latest measure comes days after local media reports that a senior cadet went under investigation for having sex with a minor and then stealing her cell phone. Nine cadets are also set to face punishment for disorderly conduct while on a volunteering trip to Thailand, according to the military.

In light of these incidents, the head of the Korea Military Academy has cut short their summer vacation for ethical courses and replaced all training instructors to hold them accountable for the cadets' misbehaviors.

After a drunken male cadet sexually harassed a female colleague on campus during a festival in May, the military institution formed a task force to tighten regulations on drinking and dating among cadets and announced a series of reform measures.

"I apologize for cadets' causing concerns to people with inappropriate behaviors," Army Maj. Gen. Ko Sung-kyun, the head of the academy, said in a briefing. "The reform measures are aimed at tightening a lax ban on drinking, smoking and marriage to raise graduation standards to foster students' capabilities and leadership."

As part of the measures, the institution plans to fill 20 percent of the 310 slots for next year with high achievers in aptitude tests, taking into consideration the discipline needed to live a strictly controlled military life, a statement said.

The academy will also increase the number of training officers to tighten monitoring of the cadets, it said.

While the institute currently prohibits cadets from drinking, smoking and marrying while attending school with some exceptions to the rule, it pledged to enforce heavier punishment, including expulsion, on violators.

Cadets were previously allowed to drink on a limited basis with approval from their professors, senior officials and parents, but they will now have to receive permission from the academy's principal which would make it more difficult for them to obtain alcohol under the new rule.

While cadets can date those who reside off campus, a ban will be in place for all freshmen and cadets in the same unit. Cadets' relationship with soldiers who are serving their compulsory military service or with military personnel on campus will also be prohibited.

As part of efforts to curb sex crimes, female dorms will have fingerprint recognition locks and surveillance cameras for strengthened monitoring.

Critics stressed the need to improve training programs to help cadets to develop greater self-awareness and leadership skills, saying more regulations would have only short-term effects for young students.

"It is easier to ban drinking and dating than educate students to learn about qualifications needed to become a professional soldier," said Hong Sung-su, a Seoul-based human rights activist. "Students should be part of the reform moves to come up with adaptive measures."

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