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NK defector completes S. Korean military service

11 June 2016 No Comment

A North Korean defector recently completed his mandatory military service in South Korea, according to Korea Hana Foundation, a state-funded organization helping defectors, Thursday.

Kim Ji-hwan, 22, was discharged on Feb. 23 after serving two years as an Air Force sergeant in the 8th Fighter Wing in Wonju, Gangwon Province.

Kim is the first North Korean defector to have completed military service here, according to the Military Manpower Administration (MMA).

All able-bodied South Korean men aged between 19 and 37 are subject to compulsory military duty. But those who escaped from North Korea can legally refuse the draft under the Conscription Law, the MMA said.

Despite this, Kim applied for service in the Air Force. There are no other North Korean defectors serving in the military.

Kim fled to South Korea with his family in 2005.

He declined to speak to the media about his military life for security reasons.

Instead, he was quoted by a foundation official. “I just fulfilled my basic duty as a South Korean man,” he was quoted as saying. “I don’t want to brag about my military life.”

He served as an aircraft mechanic after graduating from a vocational high school, whose graduates are given permission to join the Air Force as conscripted soldiers or non-commissioned officers.

Kim was born in Onsong, North Hamgyong Province, which borders China. He is an only child.

He and his parents escaped to China when he was five years old and lived there for years until they were repatriated to North Korea in 2004. They were detained in prison before they defected to South Korea. They have been living in Gangwon Province since then.

Kim said his most challenging moment as a soldier was when North Korea made military provocations, according to the foundation.

“All personnel at my unit had to remain alert day and night to maintain a readiness posture against any possible attacks. We were sleepless and restless and I really hated North Korea for giving us such pain,” he was quoted as saying.

He plans to become a professional aircraft mechanic in the future, according to the foundation.

“I’ve dreamed of fixing planes since I was little,” he was quoted as saying.

“I’ll also make lots of money to make my parents happy. They lived a tough life so far and they deserve to spend the rest of their lives in comfort.”

As a teenager, he made the news for saving a drowning elementary school student.

The Air Force requires the longest terms of service for conscripted soldiers, who have to serve two full years. Conscripts serve 21 months in both the Army and Marine Corps and 23 months in the Navy.

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