South Korean government's pro-North stance puts the wind up conservatives A coup d'etat in present-day South Korea? Sounds fanciful, but that was the idea advocated by a veterans' group in a reflection of the disenchantment felt in many conservative parts of the country. In advertisements run in two of the country's major conservative dailies last month, the Retired Colonels Association warned of an insidious red takeover of the country under President Roh Moo-hyun. The advertisements come at a time when the relationship between the military and the government is already strained. 'The national armed forces, the last bastion of national security, should reject any order from a government that runs afoul of the constitution,' ran the advertisement, which claimed the South's founding principles of democracy and the market economy were being undermined and the country was providing fertile ground for pro-North Korean communist activity. Seventeen years after the end of military rule, and with democracy firmly embedded, the possibility of a coup d'etat was swiftly rubbished, but not before a pro-democracy group had filed a complaint with public prosecutors. The presidential office noted wryly on its website that 'South Korea has become a nation where even the freedom to incite sedition and rebellions is in full bloom'. While many conservative groups and older South Koreans are deeply distrustful of the left-wing administration, this distrust is particularly notable in the fractious relationship between the reformist government and the country's top brass. Their relationship is particularly sensitive in a country that has experienced two coup d'etats and for years was ruled by a series of military dictators. The conservative armed forces, many of whose top officers received their commissions under a past dictatorship, are struggling to come to terms with the changing times, the leftward swing in domestic politics and the stripping away of their privileges. 'For some sections of the military, there is a sense of longing for a past golden age,' said Lim Wonhyuk, of the Korea Development Institute. 'In the process of the transition to a democracy, the government has had to neutralise the authority of the military, and of course this has had a negative effect on the morale of officers.' Many of the existing top military men received their original commissions when South Korea was locked in a fierce cold war with the communist North. Now they are being forced to accept a government determined to pursue engagement with the former enemy. Last month, it emerged that officers had lied to their political masters about a naval spat between the two Koreas, forcing the resignation of the defence minister. His successor, Yoon Kwang-ung, has pledged to strengthen civilian control of the military and place more civilians in top defence posts. Meanwhile, Mr Roh has tried to dispel suggestions of a rift with the armed forces, insisting: 'South Korea is on the right course.' But times have undoubtedly changed, and South Korea's top brass are being forced to come to terms with the erosion of their former prestige. 'The situation is in a state of flux at the moment, but the tension will be resolved with a gradual, generational change in the armed forces,' Dr Lim said.