A South Korean Army sergeant killed five of his fellow soldiers and wounded five others on Saturday when he opened fire along the border with North Korea, military officials said. A hunt for the soldier was underway late Saturday.
“He is still at loose, armed with a weapon and ammunition,” said a spokesman for the South Korean Defense Ministry who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the ministry’s policy.
The shootings took place at a guard post of the 22nd South Korean Army Division, which patrols the eastern section of the heavily armed border with North Korea.
It was not immediately known what drove the soldier, a sergeant whose name was not released, to kill his colleagues.
South Korea is still technically at war with North Korea because the Korean War ended in 1953 with an armistice, not a peace treaty, so the South pays keen attention to any signs of trouble or a lack of discipline in the ranks of its military.
In 2011, a marine corporal who investigators say was bullied by other marines in his barracks killed four marines and wounded a fifth.
The episodes highlight the challenge for South Korea in maintaining its 650,000-member military, a largely conscript force that is intended to deter aggression from the North.
North Korea regularly threatens to attack the South and has launched occasional surprise armed provocations across the border.
Increasingly, the military’s ranks are filled with young men who no longer consider their 21-month compulsory service a “sacred duty,” but rather an inconvenient interruption of their civilian life and careers.
In the past, corporal punishment was more widespread but also more accepted, supported by an overriding conviction that the country needed a disciplined military to protect it from the North. But South Korea’s younger generation, accustomed to six decades of relative peace on the divided peninsula, tends to be more reluctant to tolerate the strict, often harsh, enforcement of hierarchy and seniority among enlisted men, a practice that has led to instances of brutality.
Beatings have drastically declined in recent years. But after the shooting in 2011, the Defense Ministry announced a renewed crackdown on beatings and other abuses in the military.