An Army private who deserted his post while guarding the Naro Space Center on Thursday was apprehended by a military search party, authorities said.
The 21-year-old soldier identified only by his family name of Lee was caught around 1:52 p.m., four hours after he was reported absent without leave (AWOL) by his unit. The soldier belonged to the 31st division's headquarters company and was part of a guard duty detail searching for dangerous objects on Mt. Bongnae near the space center in Goheung, 473 kilometers south of Seoul.
The military said earlier in the day that the private was armed with a K-2 assault rifle, but only had 10 blank rounds. Both the military and local police mounted a search to find the soldier, with investigators questioning his superiors to determine why the private deserted.
Physical abuse and harsh treatment by superiors is one of the leading causes of desertions in the military, despite crackdowns on such activities.
The incident, meanwhile, comes as security around the space center has been beefed up in preparation for the planned launch of the Naro-1 space rocket set for Jan. 30. (Yonhap News)