A South Korean soldier stands guard at the joint security area of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone near Paju, South Korea. File Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI | License Photo
Sept. 17 (UPI) -- A South Korean soldier who lost both legs during a 2015 land mine incident at the demilitarized zone said the government is refusing to recognize him as wounded as a result of enemy action.
Ha Jae-heon was critically injured more than four years ago as tensions escalated at the border, and was honored with a memorial the same year.
Ha said Tuesday Seoul recognizes him as "wounded while in public service," rather than wounded in combat, local newspaper Munhwa Ilbo reported.
"I cannot understand this decision from the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs," Ha said. "Is it not clear I was wounded as a result of a North Korean military landmine, during a search operation, and that the joint chiefs of staff said the explosions were the result of enemy provocations?"
The land mine exploded on Aug. 4, 2015. Ha lost both legs, and his fellow soldier Kim Jeong-won lost his right ankle while attempting to rescue his colleague.
Ha told Munhwa Ilbo the veterans ministry left out mention of a "North Korea provocation" in its statement to the former soldier.
"This is unacceptable," Ha said, according to the report.
Ha also said he should be designated wounded in action like victims of the torpedoing of the warship Cheonan, and that he plans to file a lawsuit in order "restore his honor."
The former soldier also claimed the current administration of President Moon Jae-in and its policy of engagement with the North has politicized his injuries.
Government benefits are similar for soldiers, whether they are designated as wounded while in public service, or in combat, according to the Munhwa.
Ha is seeking justice at a time when the South observes the one-year anniversary of the signing of the Comprehensive Military Agreement on Sept. 19, 2018.
Cho Nam-hoon, a senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, told The Korea Herald North Korea has deprioritized the military agreement with the South as it seeks a deal with the United States.