Once used for high risk situations, commando units now regularly deployed to labor-management rows, demonstrations and protests
Figures inside and outside of the police force are commenting that the government and police are relegating the police’s commando unit, a “professional staff for combating terrorism,” to the status of “fixers” for various incidents. They are charging that while the founding mission of the commando unit was originally to respond to terrorism incidents, hostage situations and situations involving guns, the unit is now being regularly deployed to intervene in labor-management rows, demonstrations and protests.
The commando unit deployed Tuesday morning to the site of a demolition protest at Hangangno-2-ga in Seoul’s Yongsan-gu, with the approval of Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency Commissioner Kim Seok-ki, had previously been deployed to various sit-in protest sites. When two labor union members ascended the steel tower opposite the front gate of Kiryung Electronics, in the Gasan Digital Complex in Seoul’s Guro-gu, and held a sit-in protest on Oct. 21 last year, the police deployed more than 10 commandos and more than 400 combat police to suppress the protest. Combat police surrounded the tower, and commando unit members ascended the tower and brought the union members down, with mattresses laid down around the site by Kiryung Electronics administrative workers and security personnel from manpower firms. When candlelight demonstration participants held a march in Seoul’s Samcheong-dong and Hyoja-dong areas on the evening of May 31 last year, the police, citing protection of the nearby Cheong Wa Dae deployed commandos, earned harsh criticism from the public.
The police stated that the deployment of the commando unit was “appropriate based on the rules of operation.” Article 6 of the police commando unit rules of operation specifies the duties of the unit as “prevention and suppression of serious crimes, including hostage situations, situations involving guns and explosives, and disorderly conduct involving the illegal occupation of facilities.” The “Guidelines for Assembly and Demonstration Management” operating within the police also state, “The commando unit can be mobilized when operations with a high degree of difficulty are required.”
Park Rae-gun of the SARANGBANG Group for Human Rights said, “The fact that the police commando unit is being deployed to places like the sites of worker strikes itself shows the government’s way of thinking, viewing the demands of people like workers as ‘operations targets’ that must be brought under control.”
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