South Korea court reinstates breast cancer soldier

Fri Oct 5, 2007 6:21am EDT

(Adds defence ministry, paragraph 5)

By Jon Herskovitz

SEOUL, Oct 5 (Reuters) - A South Korean court on Friday ordered the military to reinstate one of its first women helicopter pilots, discharged after she had a double mastectomy to treat breast cancer.

The case has been a rallying point for women's rights activists and cancer groups who said she was the victim of antiquated and biased regulations.

The Seoul Administrative Court ordered the Defence Ministry to reinstate retired Colonel Pi Woo-jin. She had been told she could no longer serve because army regulations require soldiers who are missing body parts to be discharged.

"Her attending physician at Asan Medical Centre says she is fit to serve normal army life," the court said. "Therefore it seems there is no reason to believe the plaintiff has any disabilities that would prevent serving in the army."

The Defence Ministry said it planned to file an appeal.

Pi, now 51, was diagnosed with cancer in one breast in 2002 but removed both, believing it would be more convenient for her when flying.

She went on to serve for another three years until she said she was abruptly told to go for a physical examination. This began a slow process behind closed doors that eventually led to officials deciding she was disabled, she has said.

She created a media sensation last year when she trekked 400 km (250 miles) across the country to show she was healthy.

Around the same time, she published a book called "Women Soldiers Don't Like Chocolate" -- a reference to what she said was a belief in the military that women soldiers are preoccupied by clothes, girly things and sweets.

The book was about her experiences and the difficulties she faced as one of about 3,000 women in the country's 600,000-strong army.

Pi and her lawyer could not immediately be reached for comment.

She has previously said she loves the military but has criticised its male-dominated culture, where men officers often order women soldiers to wear make-up on duty.

"It seemed the general atmosphere for women soldiers is to meet the demands of being graceful and having a certain mystique -- as if the army was cultivating contestants for Miss Korea," she wrote in her book. (With additional reporting by Jessica Kim)