After controversy, victim of N. Korean landmine recognized as wounded combatant

SEOUL-- Overturning its earlier decision, the veterans affairs ministry on Wednesday decided to recognize a retired soldier, who lost his legs in the explosion of a North Korean landmine, as having been wounded in combat.

In August 2015, Ha Jae-heon, who served in the Army as sergeant first class, lost his legs when a mine buried in a wooden box by the North Korean military exploded inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) as he was carrying out search operations.

When he was discharged from the military earlier this year, the Army recognized him, in accordance with the military personnel management act, as a war-wounded combatant.

But the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs last month decided to recognize him as "being wounded while in public service," rather than in combat, based on the men of national merit act. The decision sparked strong public criticism, and President Moon Jae-in ordered a review of the case.

Ha filed for re-deliberation, and the final result was announced on Wednesday.

"We have received legal consultations from a larger number of experts, which led us to this flexible interpretation of the relevant regulations," minister Park Sam-deuk told a press briefing.

Extending an apology to Ha and his family members, the minister vowed to revise related rules to prevent a recurrence of such controversy.

Government benefits are similar for soldiers, whether they are designated as wounded while in public service or in combat, but Ha had said he would file a lawsuit if his request was not accepted by the ministry in order to "restore my honor."

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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