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Military boot camps lure S. Korea teens, families
by Staff Writers
Seoul (AFP) Aug 11, 2011

Activists launch leaflets across N. Korea border
Seoul (AFP) Aug 11, 2011 - South Korean activists floated leaflets attacking North Korea's regime across their fortified border Thursday amid high tensions over artillery shells near the disputed waters of the Yellow Sea.

A defector group called Fighters for Free North Korea said it launched some 200,000 leaflets calling for the overthrow of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il.

The leaflets were slung under 10 large helium-filled balloons that took off from a mountain in Gimpo, a suburb located west of Seoul.

Timing devices were attached to scatter the bundles on the north of the tense border.

The balloons also carried hundreds of DVDs and one-dollar bills, an incentive for North Koreans to overcome fears of punishment and pick up the leaflets.

The isolated North's military in the past has reacted angrily to leaflet launches, threatening to open fire to halt what it calls a smear campaign.

Cross-border tensions are high after the North fired shells twice Wednesday along the flashpoint Yellow Sea border.

The North blasted Seoul for "faking up" the incident, but the South said a frontline observation post clearly saw the shells landing near the border.

They rappel off an 11-metre (36 foot) height in seconds, run with an open parachute strapped to their shoulders, march with a heavy pack and brave a gas-filled chamber.

It could be a typical day at the South Korean army's Special Warfare Command base in western Seoul -- except that the "soldiers" are teenage boys and young women, often accompanied by their families.

The army's twice-yearly "boot camps" for civilians, offering basic military training for four days, began in 2003 and have proved a big hit.

They are open to anyone aged over 13 who pays 40,000 won ($36) and have drawn more than 17,000 people so far.

Military culture is deeply ingrained in South Korea, ruled by army-backed regimes till the mid-80s. All able-bodied men are still subject to a mandatory two years of conscription to guard against attacks from North Korea.

Boot camps -- run by the military or private firms -- have become increasingly popular in recent years, drawing people ranging from nostalgic veterans to schoolkids, company employees and those seeking special family vacations.

The army says they are an opportunity to "test your limits, enhance physical ability...and learn a strong spirit of 'making the impossible possible'."

"Boys obviously make up the biggest part because they have the mandatory service coming up," said Major Lee Joo-Ho, a boot camp spokesman.

"But more young women are showing an interest, since they were allowed to join a college-based officer commissioning programme last year."

On a typical day this month the muddy training field at Gangseo echoed to squeals, screams and shouts from 230 participants on their third day of training.

In pouring rain, youths practised a mock parachute landing -- jumping into a sandbox with their hands in the air and repeating instructions to land on the balls of the feet.

"Yes, sir!" "I can do it!" they shouted, hitching up baggy, rain-drenched uniform trousers with sneakers peeking out underneath.

"Let me hear your voice! Shout out your girlfriend's name real loud!" a military instructor commands a boy climbing down a cable from a 20-metre platform to simulate a descent from a helicopter.

The nervous-looking trainee murmurs inaudibly, prompting the stern-looking commando to grab the cable and leave him in mid-air.

"Is this what you got? Louder!" he orders repeatedly, until the boy finally yells "I love you, Choi Yoon!" and is allowed to descend.

Fifteen-year-old Yeom Hyuck said he was "very nervous but thrilled" before he hurled himself off an 11-metre parachute jump tower and ziplined to the ground.

"Everything is fun -- but right now I miss my parents," he said.

Kim Tae-Hoon, 17, said his father's dream of joining the army was foiled by poor eyesight. The father pushed his son to attend camp as soon as he turned 13.

Since then, Kim has been back every summer and winter -- a total of nine times.

"This is so good at relieving stress and much more fun than playing computer games," he said.

Since last winter Kim has been joined by his younger brother Tae-Hun, who found it "so thrilling" even to experience the gas-filled chamber, designed to test training against chemical attacks.

"I'm glad I've lost some weight...and I feel more like a man," said the chubby, red-cheeked 13-year-old.

Not everyone was so thrilled.

Cho Byung-Chan, panting hard after rappel training, said he was "a little bit" angry with his parents for sending him.

"They said I need to grow up," said the 15-year-old, who usually spends school breaks playing computer games.

"It's hard...I'm hungry," he said.

Former army commando Yoon Jeong-Sik was spending his summer vacation at the boot camp with his two daughters and wife, 24 years after retiring from the same unit.

Yoon said he wants his family to learn what he did -- self-confidence, pride and how to get along with others.

"So I cajoled my ladies into coming here for character education," said the 47-year-old, water dripping from his hair and soaking his uniform after a mock river crossing.

"At first they were pretty jolly since they had no idea how hard it would I'm trying not to meet their eyes," he said, bursting into laughter with his family.


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N. Korea twice fires shells near border: Seoul
Seoul (AFP) Aug 10, 2011
North Korea twice fired shells near the flashpoint Yellow Sea border with South Korea Wednesday, prompting warning shots from the South's marines in response, Seoul's military said. The incidents fuelled already high tensions along the disputed sea border, which saw bloody naval skirmishes in recent years and a deadly shelling attack on South Korea's Yeonpyeong island last November. The ... read more

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