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U.S. returns 12 military sites to S. Korea, including some at Yongsan Garrison

Defense 14:00 December 11, 2020

SEOUL, Dec. 11 (Yonhap) -- The United States on Friday returned 12 American military sites to South Korea, including some in central Seoul, amid persistent concerns that an additional delay would further dampen regional development efforts.

During a virtual joint committee session of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), Seoul and Washington agreed on the return of the sites, but failed to bridge differences on who and how to shoulder environmental cleanup costs, Seoul officials said.

But the two sides agreed to continue consultations on decontamination procedures, base management criteria and other outstanding issues going forward, they said.

Among the returned sites are two plots inside the Yongsan Garrison in central Seoul, Camp Kim and four other sites used by the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) in the capital city.

It is the first time that sites at the Yongsan complex -- the erstwhile U.S. military headquarters -- have been handed over to South Korean control. Seoul plans to establish a national park there.

The other returned sites are the Camp Walker heliport in the southeastern city of Daegu; Camp Jackson and Camp Mobile in the northern cities of Uijeongbu and Dongducheon, respectively; a golf course in Hanam, south of Seoul; a Marine contingent site in the southern port city of Pohang; and a shooting range in the eastern city of Taebaek.

Seoul and Washington agreed on the return on the condition that they continue consultations on responsibilities for base decontaminations, ways to strengthen the environmental management of installations currently under USFK control and the revision of SOFA-related documents, according to the government.

SOFA governs the legal status of 28,500 American troops here.

"Discussions are under way on the potential return of the remaining 12 U.S. military sites in South Korea," Choi Chang-won, first vice minister of government policy coordination, said.

This file photo, taken Aug. 31, 2020, shows the U.S. Forces Korea's Yongsan Garrison in central Seoul. (Yonhap)

Talks about the return date back to 2003, but South Korea and the U.S. have made little progress amid disagreements over decontamination procedures, base realignment considerations and other complicated issues.

The current Moon Jae-in administration has been pushing for their swift return amid residents' worries that a further delay could complicate decontamination efforts for already vacated bases and regional development prospects.

"The two sides shared the understanding that if the return of the bases is delayed, local communities will face greater economic and social difficulties," the government said in a statement.

"We agreed to manage and resolve diverse pending issues related to SOFA so as to contribute to the Korea-U.S. alliance," it added.

After the handover, South Korea will first carry out the decontamination process and then implement its planned projects.

It is reviewing building public homes at the Camp Kim site, and relocating the National Medical Center in Seoul to the vacated site of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, according to the officials.

This image provided by the defense ministry on Dec. 11, 2020, shows 12 U.S. military sites that were returned to South Korean control. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

graceoh@yna.co.kr
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