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Obama urged to expedite int'l flights at Kunsan air base

All Headlines 06:30 December 02, 2009

By Hwang Doo-hyong

WASHINGTON, Dec. 1 (Yonhap) -- A South Korean provincial governor Tuesday called on the U.S. government to take measures to allow international commercial flights to use a U.S. air base to help attract foreign investment.

Gov. Kim Wan-joo of North Jeolla Province delivered a letter to that effect to Rep. Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa) at the office of the congressman, chairman of the House Asia-Pacific subcommittee.

In the letter to be conveyed to President Barack Obama, Kim requested Obama help revise the Status of Forces Agreement governing American deployments in Korea so the U.S. air base at Kunsan could be used for international commercial chartered flights.

The 400-square-kilometer Saemangeum area, including a reclaimed tidal flat, is supposed to be developed into a huge, multi-billion-dollar industrial and tourism complex in the coming decade with both domestic and international investments.

"The existence and function of an international airport for the Saemangeum Project will affect investment promotion activities and the growth of the Jeonbuk (North Jeolla) Province and Korea as a whole, to a considerable degree, and accordingly the foreign residents' welfare in the region," the governor said in the letter.

"I believe that the close cooperation and relationship in between three parties such as the Korean and U.S. government and 8th U.S. Army will be not only a necessary condition but also an ultimate solution factor for the issue posed ahead for the Saemangeum Project success," he said. "In that process, any positive cooperation you can render us will be appreciated."

Negotiations are under way between the two countries for the construction of more runways at Kunsan to accommodate international commercial flights.

Kim, however, said negotiations and ensuing construction should take considerable time, and called on the U.S. to allow use of the base by international commercial flights on an interim basis.

"A SOFA clause allows for up to 10 domestic commercial flights to land at the Kunsan air base every day, and what we want is to revise the clause to include international commercial chartered flights," Kim said. Kunsan air base currently accommodates a few daily domestic flights.

Kim said U.S. military authorities have been lukewarm toward the proposed SOFA revision, citing security concerns.

Kim is set to sign memorandums of understanding with representatives from Windsor Capital & Musa Group and Omni Holdings in New York Thursday for their investment of US$1 billion and $3 billion each in the Saemangeum project.

Saemangeum is supposed to emerge as an attractive investment destination due to its proximity to China, just across the Yellow Sea, with the North Jeolla government expecting to support up to 2,000 businesses, factories, logistics bases, research and development centers, clean production factories and international business complexes to facilitate trade.

Several energy-related companies from Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan have shown interest, South Korean officials said, noting the national and provincial governments will provide tax breaks, cheap land and other incentives to investors.


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