S Korea probes army plan for troops to control protesters

SEOUL, July 15:A group of army generals rolling tanks and troops into Seoul to seize power. Paratroopers firing at large crowds calling for democracy.     Tanks and armored vehicles stationed at universities to intimidate student protesters.
Such scenes of military intervention in South Korea have been nonexistent since the country achieved democracy in the late 1980s. But revelations this past week of a document showing the military drafted plans to mobilize troops to suppress protests last year have struck a nerve among people in one of Asia’s most vibrant and wealthiest democracies. Some allege the plans even included a scenario for a coup.
The memories of brutal, military-backed dictatorships that imprisoned, tortured and executed dissidents remain vivid to many South Koreans. But most experts say the actual chances for another coup in South Korea are extremely low.     A controversy over the military plans arose last week when a ruling party lawmaker disclosed a document drafted by a military intelligence unit that showed plans to deploy troops if protests grew violent following a court ruling in March 2017 that would determine the fate of conservative then-President Park Geun-hye.     Lawmakers had impeached Park over broad corruption allegations in December 2016.
The document written by the Defense Security Command describes a military response to protests both in support of and against Park. After the Constitutional Court ruled to formally remove Park from office, fierce rallies erupted denouncing the court verdict but weren’t serious enough to pose a threat to national security. The plans for troop deployment weren’t carried out.
However, Lim Tae-hoon, an activist who analyzed the document, said the plans were clearly targeted at a much larger group of anti-Park protesters, who poured onto the streets in their millions to passionately but peacefully call for Park’s ouster.
Pointing out that the document included plans for martial law and contemplated how the army could bypass the military’s normal chain of command to quickly deploy large forces to Seoul, Lim raised suspicions that a closed group of army leaders plotted a coup to increase Park’s powers if she survived the attempt to oust her.
“There was no reason at all for the army to prepare plans to deploy troops and even consider martial law,” Lim said.
Following a public outcry, Park’s liberal successor, Moon Jae-in, who won the presidential election in May last year, ordered an investigation into the document. Baek Hye-ryun, a lawmaker from Moon’s party, said it would have been “no different than a coup” if army leaders had plotted to use drastic measures to crack down on anti-Park protesters.
Military experts downplay such views. Despite the peaceful nature of the protests, the military is obligated to prepare for exceptional situations where troop intervention is required to maintain order, they say.
Kim Dong-yub, a former South Korean military official, said it’s clear that the creators of the document “were held captive by the past.” Still, it would be excessive to say there were plans for a coup, he said.
“They were ready to make pathetic and frantic efforts to serve their interests if the court had rescued Park’s presidency,” said Kim, now an analyst at Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies. (AGENCIES)


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