Age limit top reason for exemption from military service in S. Korea

By Kim Eun-jung

SEOUL, Oct. 10 (Yonhap) -- The most common reason for exemption from South Korea's compulsory military service in the last five years was the age limit for draftees, most of whom stayed overseas long enough to exceed the upper ceiling, the Military Manpower Administration (MMA) said Thursday.

All able-bodied men aged 18-38 must serve in South Korea's 650,000-strong military for around two years, a key part of defense against North Korea. Most of the enlisted men are in their early 20s and are forced to put their studies on hold to join the armed forces.

A total of 110,905 Korean men have been exempted from the mandatory military service in the five years starting in 2008, the MMA said in a report submitted to parliament.

Among them, 40,295 avoided conscription due to their age, while 31,142 were not drafted because of health problems, the report said.

Most of the old draftees acquired overseas residency after they emigrated to foreign countries or studied abroad until the age of 38, the upper ceiling for the active service.

"It is worrisome that upper-class people evade their compulsory military service by claiming foreign residency through overseas study or emigration," said Rep. Kim Kwang-jin of the Democratic Party, who released the report.

The military draft is a never-ending issue in South Korea, the last frontier of the Cold War. The two Koreas are technically still at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

In the past, political candidates lost elections because they or their sons have not served in the military. Celebrities and sports stars were arrested and forced into near exile after getting caught evading the draft.

<All rights reserved by Yonhap News Agency>