After turbulent week, USFK monitoring political climate in S. Korea

By JEREMY KIRK | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 17, 2004

YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — U.S. Forces Korea officials say they’re maintaining a “heightened sense of security awareness” along with the South Korean military after a turbulent week that left South Korea without a president.

“The alliance remains strong and our commitment is unwavering,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Deborah Bertrand, USFK spokeswoman.

The heightened security awareness means no changes in the military’s status, merely that the command is noting the situation and monitoring it, said Barry Bashaw, USFK spokesman.

USFK declined to issue a statement on Friday’s impeachment of President Roh Moo-hyun.

Combined Forces Command chief Gen. Leon LaPorte and deputy Gen. Shin Il-soon met with Defense Minister Cho Young-kil and Joint Chiefs of Staff officials Saturday, said Lt. Col. Lee Bung-woo, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesperson. The meeting was held to relieve the public’s anxiety regarding security, Lee said.

The CFC is the warfighting unit staffed by U.S. and South Korean military officers.

South Korean forces were put on a “strengthened posture” after Friday’s impeachment but their Watchcon — an intelligence surveillance posture monitoring North Korea — remains unchanged, Lee said.

U.S. and South Korean forces are preparing for two concurrent exercises running from Sunday through March 28. The exercises won’t be affected by recent events, Bertrand said.

Nearly 8,500 U.S. servicemembers will participate in the exercises with 5,500 coming from outside South Korea, according to USFK. The Defense Ministry has not released how many South Korean personnel will participate.

North Korea, which was notified of the exercises, has complained. “This is a grave development, as it will escalate the situation on the Korean peninsula where tensions still persist owing to the nuclear issue between the DPRK and the United States,” according to a Friday statement from the Korea Central News Agency. “War exercises and dialogue are incompatible.”

DPRK stands for Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s official name.

While thousands took to the streets to protest Friday’s vote in the National Assembly, U.S. bases reported no unusual activity. American Forces Network advised U.S. personnel to stay away from certain areas with protesters. Prime Minister Goh Kun took over as chief of the military while awaiting a decision on Roh from South Korea’s Constitutional Court. Goh is a career politician and former Seoul mayor.

Choe Song-won contributed to this report.