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SEOUL — The South Korean consortium that wins the bid to run the Camp Humphreys expansion project will be tasked to complete it by 2012, U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. B.B. Bell confirmed in a recent interview.

U.S. officials have until now only stated that the agreed-upon plan between the United States and South Korea was to move U.S. troops from Seoul and all points north to a greatly expanded Humphreys by 2008.

Bell stressed that units will begin to move to Humphreys, as the facilities are ready.

“We’ve agreed ever since day one — and we’re going to execute this — whenever facilities are ready for a unit to move into, we’re going to move them,” he said. “So I would anticipate as soon as buildings … are completed and if we have room, we’ll begin to move units down there — small ones.”

The plan isn’t to wait until the entire project is complete in five years, he said.

“So there’s not going to be a giant movement one afternoon of thousands of Americans to Pyeongtaek,” he said. “It will be a deliberate effort, and it will be gauged against the completion of appropriate facilities.”

Bell said U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and his South Korean counterpart, Defense Minister Kim Jang-soo, agreed on the final step of the project master plan during their face-to-face meeting in Washington, D.C., late last month.

Bell said the process is moving quickly.

“If it was hung up, it’s not anymore,” he said of the master plan.

The transformation plan hit major roadblocks in the past two years when activists across the peninsula rallied to support farmers who were being forced off about 2,300 acres of land South Korea bought for the Humphreys expansion.

During a massive protest in May 2006, most of the activists and villagers were forcibly removed from the land by thousands of South Korean riot police. Some holdouts squatted there for months, however, and only recently agreed to take government buyouts and vacate the area.

Officials recently began work on a 200-acre plot of land called Parcel 1.

Bell said the decision to give operational wartime command — or OPCOM — of South Korean forces back to their own military and to inactivate the Combined Forces Command affected part of the master plan. It’s also being considered in the decision on when to move U.S. Forces Korea to Humphreys.

“The original plan for the headquarters is clearly different now than it was two years ago,” he said. The original master plan called for the Combined Forces Command to move to Humphreys.

“Hundreds of Republic of Korea staff officers and commanders and leaders would have moved down there with that operation,” he said. “That is now not going to happen.”

South Korea will form its own new headquarters with the transfer of OPCOM.

Bell said he assumes South Korea will build the headquarters in Seoul to house what he refers to as a “Republic of Korea Joint Forces Command.”

“We could move USFK to Pyeongtaek before the transfer of OPCOM,” he said. “We could — and still be able to function as Combined Forces Command.”

But it would be difficult, he stressed.

“It’s much easier to move after transfer of OPCOM,” he said. “We have to make a judgment about what makes the most sense in terms of this headquarters — USFK — moving to Pyeongtaek versus the inactivation date of CFC, versus the building program.”

Pointing at the command colors on display in his office, he said he wasn’t sure when they would move south.

“What I do know is this: Before that set of colors can move from this building down to Pyeongtaek we need adequate facilities, we need a headquarters and we need adequate housing for all the families of the servicemembers that man U.S. Forces Korea,” he said.

His best prediction?

“Sometime between 2007 and 2012 would be my best guess,” Bell joked.

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