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4 Jun, 2021 11:30

S. Korean air force chief resigns over suicide of female sergeant whose complaint of sexual harassment was ignored

S. Korean air force chief resigns over suicide of female sergeant whose complaint of sexual harassment was ignored

The chief of South Korea’s Air Force has resigned amid a scandal sparked by the suicide of a female sergeant who was allegedly sexually harassed by a colleague. The military faced accusations of trying to cover-up the incident.

The Chief of Staff of the Republic of Korea Air Force, General Lee Seong-yong offered his resignation on Friday, taking responsibility for the incident and for its handling by the military.

“I keenly feel heavy responsibility over the series of circumstances and express a desire to resign,” the General said. “I’d like to offer an apology for causing concern to the people. Above anything else, I express deep sorrow to the victim and extend heartfelt condolences to the bereaved family.”

The resignation was “immediately accepted” by the country’s President Moon Jae-in, presidential spokesperson Park Soo-hyun told reporters at a press briefing. “The process related to handling the resignation will be carried out as quickly as possible,” Park added.

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The scandal, which has rocked the country’s military, erupted earlier this week, after the family of the victim petitioned Moon on Tuesday, demanding a proper investigation and punishment of those involved. The petition has been signed by more than 300,000 people since then.

The victim, a female master sergeant, was found dead at her residence late in May after she’d ended her life. The sergeant had suffered an alleged sexual assault by a fellow non-commissioned officer (NCO) some three months before the incident, when the two were sharing a car ride back to their base after a dinner.

Her family alleged that the air force tried to sweep the assault under the carpet, bullying the victim instead of pursuing the perpetrator, adding to her emotional distress, a state that ultimately led to her suicide.

The president ordered an investigation into the affair on Thursday, with the probe already yielding some results. Media reports suggest that the family’s allegations might be true and the early probe results indeed pointed at a potential cover-up.

“The investigation is under way, but so far there were signs that the air force tried to protect its own organization, rather than the victim, despite her multiple attempts at seeking help,” an anonymous military source told Reuters.

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The suspect in the original alleged sexual assault was arrested on Thursday, and is facing charges of molesting and injuring the female NCO. Two supervisors involved in the case have been dismissed, the air force said, without revealing why. On Friday, military prosecutors also raided the offices of the air force military police.

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