South Korean general and wife 'treated soldiers like slaves'

SEOUL (AFP) - A South Korean general and his wife treated soldiers like "slaves", forcing them to retrieve golf balls and pick up toenail clippings, a rights group alleged, prompting officials to launch a probe on Wednesday (Aug 2).

Soldiers assigned to the home of four-star general Park Chan Ju and his wife "did the laundry, ironing, gardening, cleaning bathrooms, picking up every little trash - even pieces of toenails or dead skin cells," the Centre for Military Human Rights Korea said in a press statement.

The wife threw a pancake at one soldier when he forgot to bring it to her son, hitting him in the face, it said, and the couple forced all the troops to attend their church, no matter what their religion.

"The soldiers' daily lives were no different from that of slaves," it added, paving the way for authorities to launch a criminal investigation.

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In South Korea, men of authority expect to be treated respectfully by their juniors and subordinates - a tradition even more strictly upheld in the military.

More than 60 years after the end of the Korean War, every able-bodied South Korean man between the age of 18 and 35 is required to perform two years of military service.

Two to four soldiers are assigned to commanders' residences to help with their official duties but many end up doing household chores instead, such as cleaning, driving or cooking, the centre said.

One soldier at Park's house had to wear an electronic paging device on his wrist to respond swiftly to calls from the wife, who threatened him to send to a military prison when he failed to react in time because of a discharged battery, the centre said.

The soldiers were forced to be on duty from 6am, when the general went to early morning prayers, until his bed time at 10pm, and his wife regularly hurled abuse at kitchen staff, throwing fruit at the soldiers or wielding a knife.

Seoul's defence ministry has launched a probe into the case, a ministry spokesman told AFP.

Park has issued a public apology and offered to resign since rights groups accused him and his wife of abuse "beyond imagination".

Kim Hyung Nam, an official at the rights centre, said such mistreatment was not rare among soldiers assigned to commanders' houses, but most soldiers were "simply unable to speak out".