SEOUL — Pro-North Korean activist groups in South Korea are considered “enemies” under new defense ministry guidelines being issued to troops.

According to South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense, those who “recklessly follow North Korea’s policy aimed at threatening the national security of the Republic of Korea” are “benefitting enemy forces.”

The recently issued guidelines — contained in a booklet titled “Let’s Be the Winner of Ideological Warfare” — name nine South Korean civic and student groups as “anti-state organizations” that are “clearly the enemy of the (South Korean) military,” according to the MND. The material is being distributed in boot camps and to combat units and military education organizations.

This marks the first time the ministry has declared civilian groups in South Korea as enemies of the state, an MND spokesman said.

The spokesman, speaking on the customary condition on anonymity, said the ministry “decided to do this for the moral education of our officers and men of the armed forces. In other words, the ministry did this to make sure they have the proper outlook on national security.”

At least one lawmaker, National Assembly member Jin Sung-jun, criticized the MND, saying it was a serious problem to define some South Koreans as the “enemy” based on their thoughts and ideologies. In a statement, he said the MND should not target groups that share views promoted by North Korea, such as removing U.S. troops from the peninsula and abolishing the South’s National Security Law.

The ministry’s denunciation of leftist groups — including those critical of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak — has received increased political attention this year. In January, troops from two South Korean army units stationed near the North Korea border were ordered to delete applications from their smart phones that were deemed pro-North Korean or critical of Lee.

An MND spokesman said in February that he did not know why the order had been given but that commanders might fear their troops would be reluctant to engage in battle with North Korea if hostilities arise. Another MND spokesman said using the apps would negatively affect soldiers and cause them to “desecrate” values such as loyalty and obedience.

“It is clear who our enemy is, and therefore soldiers must be loyal and obey orders of the commander-in-chief,” he said. “Forward troops must be willing to take orders whenever the enemy provokes in order to defeat the enemy.”

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Yoo Kyong Chang is a reporter/translator covering the U.S. military from Camp Humphreys, South Korea. She graduated from Korea University and also studied at the University of Akron in Ohio.

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