South Korea’s Defense Chief Resigns in Wake of Attack

November 25, 2010

By MARK McDONALD, The New York Times

SEOUL, South Korea — President Lee Myung-bak accepted the resignation of Defense Minister Kim Tae-young on Thursday amid intense criticism over the South’s response to an artillery attack byNorth Korea two days earlier and the sinking of a warship in March.

“There was a need to revamp the military landscape,” a senior government official said Thursday night. “It was time.”

The government official said Mr. Kim offered his resignation on May 1, after a South Korean Navy vessel, the Cheonan, was sunk off the coast of North Korea in the Yellow Sea. Mr. Lee deferred the resignation and asked Mr. Kim to stay on. It was expected that his replacement would be named on Friday.

Earlier Thursday, , the government said it would bolster its island defenses in the Yellow Sea and make its rules of engagement more muscular. Mr. Lee held a security meeting Thursday morning at the Blue House, the presidential compound in Seoul, where the new strategies were drafted.

Seoul also said it would press China to use its considerable diplomatic leverage with the North to avoid an escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Mr. Kim’s departure followed one of the most violent clashes as the North and South exchanged artillery barrages on Tuesday afternoon. The battle killed two marines and two civilians on the small South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, about nine miles off the North Korean coast.

A commentary in the conservative South Korean daily Chosun Ilbo assailed Mr. Kim, saying the military had been outgunned and underprepared.

“The minister practically admitted that the military failed to respond to a new type of North Korean threat” in the Yellow Sea, the newspaper said, charging that “the military has been implementing reforms that weaken defense capabilities” on the islands.

Beijing’s response has so far been muted, and a senior government official in Seoul said privately on Thursday that South Korea was going to “pull out all the stops and make every diplomatic effort with China.”

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