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S. Korea, U.S. to seek return of about 1/4 of Yongsan Garrison by early next year

Defense 12:00 July 29, 2021

SEOUL, July 29 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States agreed Thursday to work closely together for the return of about one-fourth of the U.S. military's Yongsan Garrison site in central Seoul by early next year, the foreign ministry said.

The agreement to pursue the return of nearly 500,000 square meters of land came as Seoul pushes for a mega project to establish a national park there, amid worries that a delay in the return and decontamination of the garrison would hamper the project.

This file photo, taken Dec. 11, 2020, shows part of the U.S. Yongsan Garrison in central Seoul. (Yonhap)

Ko Yun-ju, the ministry's director-general for North American affairs, and Lt. Gen. Scott L. Pleus, deputy commander of the U.S. Forces Korea, reached the agreement in a teleconference. They are representatives of the joint committee of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which governs the legal status of 28,500 American troops here.

"Both sides have committed to closely working together for returning nearly 500,000 square meters of the Yongsan Garrison by early 2022," the two sides said in a joint statement after the virtual session.

"The Joint Committee representatives agreed to continue to address returns and grants based on mutual trust and close cooperation, reinforcing the ironclad ROK-U.S. alliance," it added. The ROK stands for the Republic of Korea.

The envisioned return of the garrison is part of a broad relocation scheme to consolidate U.S. bases across the Korean Peninsula into a garrison in Pyeongtaek, 80 kilometers south of Seoul, and another in Daegu, 302 km southeast of the capital, with an aim to enhance defense readiness and operational efficiencies in the face of North Korean military threats.

At Thursday's session, the two sides also reaffirmed the need for expediting the return of U.S. military camps no longer in use and the grant of facilities and areas that have been requested by the U.S. side, according to the joint statement.

"The ROK and the U.S. have agreed to identify the sections of Yongsan no longer in use that can be returned when all required transfer and force protection actions are complete," the statement read.

In late 2019, the two countries initiated the long-awaited return process for the garrison, once home to the USFK headquarters, to ensure that the national park construction project proceeds smoothly. But little significant progress has been made.

sshluck@yna.co.kr
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