The presidential office said Sunday it is up to the defense ministry and the national military academy to decide on the relocation of the busts of five late Korean freedom fighters, amid growing controversy over the ministry's plan to remove them from the academy.
Debate is heating up after the defense ministry said earlier in the week it is considering relocating the portrait busts, including that of legendary independence fighter Hong Beom-do, erected at the Korea Military Academy in northern Seoul.
The ministry cited the historical record on their past affiliations with the Soviet Communist Party and related activities, saying they judge that it is "inappropriate" to commemorate them at the academy, which trains military officers based on the "Korean constitution of liberal democracy and market economy."
"The Ministry of National Defense and the Korea Military Academy will review the matter well and make a decision," an official from the presidential office said, without elaborating further.
Another official at the presidential office said "each institution should honor people that best fit its identity."
"You know that it doesn't mean the defense ministry denigrates Gen. Hong Beom-do and his role as an independence fighter," the official added.
The Heritage of Korean Independence (HKI), an association representing the independence fighters and their descendants, blasted the move and demanded Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup step down.
"What country are you the defense minister of with the lost national conscience? ... If you don't have the ability to judge on your own, stepping down from your post would be the path for your country," Lee Jong-chan, the HKI chief, said in an open letter sent to the defense minister.
In a Facebook post, former President Moon Jae-in, the predecessor to President Yoon Suk Yeol, expressed deep concerns over the move that he said denies the Korean Army is rooted in the liberation and independence forces, calling for the ministry to rethink the plan.
Source: Yonhap News Agency