SEOUL (AFP) - South Korean President Park Geun Hye apologised on Monday for a deadly front-line shooting rampage by an army conscript and called for a close look at abuses in barracks.
A 22-year-old sergeant surnamed Lim opened fire on members of his own unit at a guard post near the tense border with North Korea on June 21, killing five and wounding seven. Lim was captured alive after a 24-hour standoff with thousands of troops, when he shot himself in the chest.
His motive remains unknown, but Defence Minister Kim Kwan-Jin has suggested that bullying had been a factor.
"I convey my deep condolences to the victims... and feel very sorry for parents whose sons are serving in the military over their sense of unease," Ms Park said at a meeting with aides. "There should be a close look into any wrong barrack culture and practices," she said.
Barrack-room bullying is a sensitive issue in South Korea, where the vast majority of personnel are those serving their mandatory two years of military service. Mistreatment of fresh conscripts used to be rampant and was blamed for a number of suicides and similar shooting sprees in the past.
Measures have been taken to stamp out the practice, but experts say those who struggle to adapt to military life are often isolated and humiliated.
Lim joined the army in 2012 and was only three months away from being discharged. He had difficulty adapting to the military, and psychological evaluations had advised senior officials to pay special attention to him.
Before his unsuccessful suicide attempt, Lim wrote a note that - according to media reports - described how bullying drove him to despair. The military has refused to release the note or confirm its contents.