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Seoul agrees to 5.8 percent hike in funding for US troops

Troops with the 2nd Infantry Division put their gear down while they train at the rappel tower at Camp Hovey, South Korea, March 6, 2013.

SEOUL — South Korea has agreed to increase its contributions toward the upkeep of U.S. forces on the peninsula by 5.8 percent this year, following a three-day round of talks that capped months of negotiations.

The U.S. and South Korea agreed to a new five-year Special Measures Agreement in Seoul on Saturday, replacing the deal that expired at the end of 2013.

Under the new SMA, South Korea will pay 920 billion won — about $866.6 million — for upkeep of the 28,500 U.S. troops in 2014, in addition to unspecified contributions toward labor, logistics and construction, according to the U.S. Embassy in Seoul. Annual increases based on inflation will be capped at 4 percent.

“The majority of SMA funding is recirculated through the Korean economy via salaries and benefits paid to Korean workers, supply and service contracts with Korean firms, and the implementation of local construction work,” a U.S. Embassy statement said Sunday.

The latest SMA was signed in 2009, setting South Korea’s contribution for that year at about $775 million, with provisions for annual increases for inflation. Negotiations began last summer but dragged on over differences in how much South Korea would contribute, and concerns in Seoul that the U.S. was not being transparent in its use of funds.

The new agreement includes measures intended to increase transparency. However, South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs would not comment Monday on why Seoul believes its oversight of defense fund spending has been inadequate.

The Senate Armed Services Committee found in an April report that South Korean contributions were not keeping pace with the growth in U.S. costs, and in 2012, U.S. spending was expected to outpace South Korean contributions by $330 million. No figures were released on how much the U.S. is expected to pay under the new agreement.

Stars and Stripes’ Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this report.

rowland.ashley@stripes.com

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