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S.Korean parliament seeks laws recognizing ex-spies
( 2003-09-22 11:54) (Agencies)

South Korea's parliament is seeking legislation to recognize the status of former commandos trained to infiltrate North Korea on missions that were often tantamount to suicide raids, parliamentarians said on Monday.

The Defense Information Command of the defense ministry said in a report submitted to a leading opposition member of the single-chamber National Assembly the country trained about 13,000 commandos between 1951 and 1994, of whom 7,800 had been killed or were missing and 200 were wounded.

The ex-agents have said they were sent to the North to carry out revenge attacks for North Korean bombings, make surprise attacks on key installations and sometimes kidnap people. Defense sources say it is highly unlikely there are active units now.

The South Korean government has yet to officially confirm the commandos were used as infiltration teams because North Korea, which has carried out similar clandestine espionage operations against the South, has never disclosed such acts.

The command's report, which the defense ministry confirmed it had sent to Lee Kyeong-jae of the main opposition Grand National Party, stopped short of fully confirming the role of the units, but went further than other public statements so far.

"We (members of parliament) hope we can pass a special law this year that will restore the honor of former agents and help them to get proper compensation for their sacrifice," Lee told Reuters.

The defense ministry has said fully confirming the special commando forces existed could hurt already delicate relations with the North. But it also says the enactment of a special law would increase compensation beyond the budget allocated to the ministry.

The budget ministry said in August defense spending would grow eight percent to 18.9 trillion won ($16.22 billion) in 2004 as South Korea strengthens its military to deter the North and reduce its reliance on U.S. support.

Anxiety is growing among regional powers over the North's nuclear ambitions its economy.

Hundreds of former commandos held violent protests last year in Seoul demanding government pensions and recognition. Then-president Kim Dae-jung promised the government would look into the matter.

The two Koreas remain in a technical state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armed truce that has never been replaced by a peace treaty.

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