South Korea's defence minister apologised yesterday to the relatives of victims of a shooting rampage by an army conscript for suggesting that those killed had been bullying the gunman.
The shooting took place last Saturday when a 22-year-old sergeant, surnamed Lim, opened fire on members of his own unit at a guard post near the tense border with North Korea, killing five and wounding seven.
Minister Kim Kwan-jin had infuriated the families of Lim's victims when he suggested, in a recent meeting with lawmakers, that bullying had been a factor behind the shooting spree.
"I feel sorry for hurting the hearts of the bereaved families by causing a misunderstanding that bullying was a motive," Kim said in a statement.
"We will thoroughly bring the truth to light in order not to damage the reputation of the victims," he said.
Barrack-room bullying is a sensitive issue in South Korea.
Measures have been taken to stamp out the practice, but experts say those who struggle to adapt to military life are often isolated and humiliated.
Lim joined the army in 2012 and was only three months away from being discharged.
Before shooting himself, Lim wrote a suicide note that media reports say detailed how bullying drove him to despair.
The defence ministry has refused to release the note or confirm its contents.