President Moon Jae-in immediately accepted Li Son-yong’s resignation, making him the shortest-serving head of the country’s air force.
The head of the South Korean Air Force has resigned, apologizing and claiming responsibility for the death of a member of the force who, according to his family, took his own life after being sexually assaulted by his colleague.
Lee Sung-yong offered to step down a day after serving as Air Force chief sergeant in March for allegedly assaulting a female colleague of the same degree.
“I feel a great responsibility among the circumstances,” the general said.
“I express my deepest condolences to the victim, my sincere condolences to the families of the victims.”
President Moon Jae-in immediately accepted Lee’s resignation, his spokesman said Friday, making him South Korea’s shortest-serving air force chief since his appointment in September.
The family of the deceased reported that he suffered from mental exhaustion, “persistent violence”, and accused the air force of trying to cover up the attack and silence him for the past two months.
The case sparked public outcry after the woman’s family filed a motion with Moon’s office on Tuesday, calling for a thorough investigation and punishment of those involved. So far, more than 326,000 people have signed it.
The case is hard on Moon, whose public approval rating is steadily declining, whose party suffered crushing electoral defeats before next year’s presidential election in two major cities.
Too little, too late
Moon on Thursday ordered an investigation, including into how the air force handled the case, as the family reported three Lee Base officials to the military prosecutor’s office, accusing two of them of attempted coercion and attempted sexual assault.
The Air Force on Thursday fired two supervisors involved in Lee’s case without elaborating on why.
On Friday, military prosecutors stormed the Air Force’s military police headquarters at Lee’s base.
A number of incidents have prompted the military to tighten rules and penalties for sexual violence, but activists say the military is still very lenient with members accused of wrongdoing.
“The investigation is ongoing, but so far there have been indications that the air force has tried to protect its own organization, not the victim, despite seeking help,” a source told Reuters on condition of anonymity, citing the investigation.
The woman’s death came amid growing debate over the abolition of the All-Men project in the South.
All able-bodied male citizens have to serve for almost two years, but women can volunteer for military service.
Barracks-like violence, like other forms of abuse, has long plagued South Korea’s military service, leading to several suicides and fatal shootings in the past.
In March, transgender South Korean military, who was forcibly discharged from the army after sex reassignment surgery, took his own life, provoking another public protest.