Defense minister calls for creation of violence-free culture in military barracks

SEOUL, Aug. 2 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's defense minister Saturday deplored the death of a soldier by violence and abusive treatment by fellow soldiers and called for the creation of an environment where soldiers' human rights can be respected.

In April, a 23-year-old Army private first class (PFC), surnamed Yoon, died after allegedly being hit in the chest by six of his colleagues at their barracks. The assault caused a piece of food to obstruct his airway, leading him to die of asphyxiation.

Initial investigations showed that the victim had long suffered from frequent assaults and abusive treatment by his fellow soldiers. The military is also looking into suspicions that he also was sexually molested by his fellow soldiers.

"PFC Yoon's death caused by beating and abusive treatment by his superiors is something that we cannot expect to happen in the 21st century civilized society," Defense Minister Han Min-koo told a meeting with high-ranking military officials in Seoul. "This is shameful and regrettable."

He blamed a "sense of complacency" among officers that abusive treatment among soldiers has disappeared. He called for his staff to do all they can do to overhaul the culture in barracks and prevent the repeat of such a tragedy.

"Heavy punishment should be meted out to all people involved in this case including those who did nothing about this even after knowing it. I also urge you to overhaul the culture in barracks in a way that could create a human right exemplary zone where soldiers can be treated with dignity," he said.

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