South Korea wants to cut about a quarter of its 680,000 military through 2020 trying to modernize its forces, the Defense Ministry said Monday.
It will be the first major troop cut for South Korea, which faces North Korea across a heavily fortified border. Communist North Korea also boasts a 1.1 million-troop military - the world's fifth largest - and claims to have nuclear weapons.
The plan to streamline the military calls for slashing the number of troops to 500,000, the ministry said in a statement. The reduction was a key part of a set of defense reform measures the ministry outlined to President Roh Moo-hyun Thursday last week.
"The core point of the national defense reform is to turn the military into a state-of-the-art, science-technology force ... although the number of troops is reduced," the statement said.
The reform measures also call for structural reorganizations within the military, such as creating a "unified ground operation command" by merging two of the army's three major combat organizations.
Further details were not available, including how the ministry plans to increase its war capabilities after the troop cut.
The ministry said the reform plan was still subject to change and has yet to receive parliamentary approval.
The ministry planned to formally announce the reform plan next week but released some aspects after it was leaked to the local press.
Ministry officials declined to confirm the media reports, including those that said most of the reductions will be made from the 550,000-member army.
South Korea's military is augmented by 32,500 U.S. troops, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War that is still technically in a cease-fire. However, Washington is also reducing its forces on the peninsula in the coming years to 24,500, the AP reports.
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