Blame game continues over Presidents initial directive over Yeonpyeong attack
By Jung Sung-ki
The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) dismissed a local report Saturday that the presidential office had directed the military to prevent the escalation of conflict with North Korea, following the North’s Nov. 23 shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, near the sea border in the West Sea.
“We didn’t have any directive from Cheong Wa Dae ordering a prevention of escalation,” the JCS said in a statement.
Whether Cheong Wa Dae gave such an order has been an issue of debate amid criticism that the South did not respond to the attack properly though the unprecedented bombardment killed four South Koreans.
According to the Hankyeoreh newspaper, which quoted an unidentified military officer privy to communications between the presidential office and JCS, Cheong Wa Dae directed the chiefs to assess the number of civilian casualties and make efforts not to escalate the situation into war.
Cheong Wa Dae spokeswoman Kim Hee-jung relayed the comment in a press briefing. She said President Lee Myung-bak ordered the military to “resolutely respond but prevent the situation from escalating into war.”
But later the spokeswoman withdrew the comment, saying Lee didn’t make such a comment and there was a mistake in briefing the results of an emergency security meeting at the presidential office. It came at a time when the Lee administration was under heavy fire for its poor response to the attack, one of the worst provocations by the North since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.
Former Defense Minister Kim Tae-young, however, confirmed the presidential directive at a parliamentary session, igniting a controversy over the authenticity of Cheong Wa Dae’s initial directive.
Kim was subsequently forced to resign after that. Cheong Wa Dae also dismissed Brig. Gen. Kim Byung-ki, who served as a secretary for defense affairs.
Against that backdrop, critics said Lee’s office made the former defense minister the scapegoat to avoid public criticism.
“When the President held an emergency meeting with security-related ministers at a bunker, someone certainly made the comment on prevention of escalation of war,” a senior military source told The Korea Times. “Not sure if that was President Lee, but there was a certain mistake or confusion in announcing Lee’s directives.”