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South Korean Defense Chief Offers to Quit Over Deadly Shooting

Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung reacts during parliamentary defense committee meeting after a soldier went on a rampage and murdered 8 of his comrades
South Korea's defense minister has tendered his resignation after a South Korean soldier killed eight fellow soldiers in a shooting spree. The killings have sparked a robust debate over the state of South Korea's military.

Shin Hyun-don, a spokesman for South Korea's Defense Ministry, says the country's defense chief offered to quit his post Wednesday. Mr. Shin said Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung phoned South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun Wednesday with an offer of resignation. President Roh Moo-hyun has said he needs time to decide whether to accept the resignation or not.

Grieving families have been confronting South Korean military personnel since Sunday, when a South Korean soldier tossed a grenade, then shot and killed eight of his fellow soldiers while they slept.

Two others were wounded in the attack, which happened near the Demilitarized Zone that separates the country from North Korea. Investigators say some of the surviving soldiers initially believed an attack by North Korea might be underway.

The attacking soldier reportedly told investigators he had been verbally abused by his superiors. Military officials say he has no history of mental illness.

In two separate incidents on Sunday, two other soldiers committed suicide - one by hanging, one by lighting himself on fire.

South Korean conservative opposition member Park Jin says Sunday's incidents show an unacceptable erosion of discipline in the military.

Mr. Park said South Korea's security system is in crisis. He said Minister Yoon should be removed, and President Roh should offer a public apology.

Moon Hee-sang, Chairman of President Roh's Uri Party, agrees that urgent action needs to be taken. Mr. Moon said the military needs to accept full responsibility for recent events, and take measures throughout the whole organization to ensure such tragedies do not happen again.

The three incidents have raised questions about possible abuse and mental stress in the South Korean military.

Two years of military service is compulsory for most South Korean males. Those assigned to duty along the Demilitarized Zone are positioned only several hundred meters from units of North Korea's million-man army - most of which is deployed along the heavily armed border.