CHUNCHEON, Feb. 23 (Korea Bizwire) – The Ministry of National Defense’s recent announcement that it will lift restrictions on the movements of South Korean soldiers granted short term passes as well as abolish a rule requiring non-commissioned officer recruits to live on base for a designated period is causing a stir in communities near the South-North Korean border.
In South Korea’s military, troops given short term passes (permission to leave their military installation from morning to evening or stay a night out on the weekend) are not permitted to go beyond the boundaries of a designated administrative region.
As border communities have relied on spending by military personnel for their survival, fears are that the removal of the ban on traveling will result in soldiers abandoning regional areas and heading to urban centers like Seoul and Gyeonggi Province instead.
Besides the direct hit local businesses will suffer, others have made the point that troops traveling too far from their bases weakens the military’s combat capabilities, as the time it would take them to return should an emergency situation arise is greater.
The head of a merchant’s collective in Cheorwon County, located in northern Gangwon Province, said, “All you hear nowadays is that business is bad because of the poor economy, but if [the government] lifts the travel restrictions for short term passes then there won’t be any soldiers left in Cheorwon on the weekend.”He added, “If the soldiers head down to Seoul or Gyeonggi, or if [their families] take them home for the night, there are also concerns that they won’t be able to make it back to their stations if something were to happen.”
Economic development in the majority of border communities is restricted as they are within government classified military operations areas, one reason for their dependence on soldiers’ spending.
An official from Yanggu County said, “In border communities, 70 to 80 percent of the local economy is reliant on expenditures from soldiers on short term passes, which is why the Ministry of National Defense’s decision is like a death blow [to the region].”
Though there have been periods of heightened inter-Korea tension in the past when short term passes were restricted, local governments are of the opinion that what will transpire going forward presents a bigger dilemma.
Unable to come up with any decisive measures for the time being, business and government alike remain troubled.
Kevin Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org)