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Asia Minute: Army Peace Gifts Spark Controversy in South Korea

Johannes Barre
Wikimedia Commons

Between Christmas, New Years and other year-end holidays, this is a season of gift-giving. But in South Korea, a recent series of gifts involving the army has resulted in some apologies.

It seemed like such a good idea for a gift — a bit of history — symbolizing peace and hope for reconciliation. They were snippets of barbed wire from guard posts recently dismantled along the Korean border.

Just as small fragments of the Berlin Wall turned into memorable reminders of the triumph of unity, several South Korean army officers thought the barbed wire would make perfect souvenirs for lawmakers of the ruling party.

Officers of the 7th Infantry Division presented nearly a dozen framed plaques including maps of the Korean Peninsula and about three inches of barbed wire – with thanks to lawmakers who had recently visited the area around the Demilitarized Zone.

But it turns out South Korea’s Defense Department had issued orders to preserve everything from the destroyed guard posts, quote, “since deliberations are being made to use the debris for peace-related and cultural uses.”

So late this week, the Army apologized, the lawmakers said they would return the gifts, and opposition lawmakers indignantly called the incident “tantamount to embezzlement.”

Credit Republic of Korea / Flickr

Meanwhile, Stars and Stripes reports that South Korean officials have presented small pieces of other barbed wire to U.S. military personnel — wire that has been replaced along the DMZ — but not from the guard posts.

This year’s delivery: 36,000 pieces of less controversial barbed wire.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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