The Ministry of National Defense (MND) said Thursday it will strengthen psychological counseling for military service members after a soldier fatally shot himself before dawn that day while standing guard at the the Presidential Office.
The tragic incident sparked security concerns as it took place at the front gate of the Presidential Office, which President Ma Ying-jeou passes through every day.
Opposition lawmakers also panned the Defense Ministry over high in-service suicide rate, citing MND data that show 23 military service members committed suicide last year, or roughly one every two weeks.
Local media reports said the Defense Ministry is working to close any security loopholes and will step up counseling for service members to prevent recurrence of similar tragedies.
The following are excerpts from the local media coverage of the incident and Defense Ministry's response measures:
United Daily News:
The 20-year-old guard, identified as Kao Yu-chieh, shot himself in the chest with his service T91 rifle while on duty at the main entrance to the Presidential Office at around 3 a.m. Thursday.
It marked the first time that a uniformed guard at the Presidential Office in downtown Taipei has ever committed suicide on duty.
Kao was conscripted into the Army late last year and was assigned to Battalion 211 under the Military Police Command on March 6 after completed recruit training.
The battalion is responsible for uniformed guard service at the Presidential Office. It consists mostly of young conscripts.
Kao was picked by the battalion's leading officers three days after he began receiving boot camp training as he was tall and very handsome, military sources said.
His supervisors came to learn from his memos and military daybook in February and April that he was troubled by his broken relationship with his girlfriend.
He wrote in the February daybook that his 268-days love affair came to an end on Feb. 26. His supervisors had since given him counseling on several occasions, the sources said.
Opposition lawmakers criticized the military for assigning Kao to standing guard at night shifts.
Uniformed guards on duty at the main entrances of major government buildings on the 10 p.m.-6 a.m. watch are usually issued with two magazines, each containing six bullets.
The Defense Ministry said it has formed a special task force to investigate whether there are any flaws in military management and whether any officials should be held accountable for the case. (May 4, 2012).
Opposition Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Hsueh Ling said at a hearing of the Legislative Yuan's Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee Thursday that from 2002 to 2011, the leading causes of death for military service members were car crashes and drunk driving while suicide came in second, citing MND data.
Over the past decade, Hsueh said, nearly 300 soldiers had committed suicide or sustained self-inflicted injuries.
As of May 3, she said, seven soldiers had committed suicide so far this year.
"The figure was disheartening and the military should make more efforts to improve the situation," she said.
In response, Deputy Defense Minister Chao Shih-chang said the ministry will conduct an overall review and step up psychological counseling for all service members. (May 4, 2012).
(By Sofia Wu)