Agreement in place, Korea now must decide what to do with Yongsan land
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — While South Korea and the United States have agreed on moving all U.S. troops out of Yongsan by 2007, a fight is brewing between South Korean officials on what to do with the land once it is handed over, and who will pay for the changes.
At a Monday news briefing, an official from South Korea’s presidential office strongly denied weekend media reports saying the national government quashed Seoul’s plans for turning the 600-acre base into open space.
Seoul’s mayor wants the land to be used as a national park but is demanding the national government pay for the conversion. At the same time, the mayor is moving to buy smaller U.S. properties — like Camp Kim and the former Arirang Taxi compound — to use for new city government complexes.
The smaller camps’ land will cost the city more than $315 million, officials said.
The national government says it “agrees in principle” with the idea but won’t commit to any plans. And Defense Ministry officials are seeking to reclassify the land from open space to commercial use, thereby increasing the price for which they can sell it.
That money, in turn, would be used to purchase land for new U.S. military hubs in Osan and Pyongtaek.
“We will be obliged to consider the opinion that a national park should be built at Yongsan Garrison, which Seoul citizens will get back from the United States after over 50 years,” an unnamed senior government official told reporters at Monday’s briefing.
“However, we will also consider the huge budget needed for relocation of the U.S. military facilities.”
While no official figure has been finalized, various reports put relocation costs from $3 billion to $4 billion; under previous agreements, South Korea must bear all of that cost.
Not everyone is happy about the pending move. Monday, more than 100 Pyongtaek residents protested the plan in front of the South Korean Defense Ministry — just yards down the street from Yongsan Garrison. The residents say the agreement to move Yongsan to their neighborhood was made “unilaterally,” without reflecting their opinions.
Negotiations continue about shuffling other U.S. forces on the peninsula. Under a larger plan, the Pentagon eventually will move U.S. troops further south from the Demilitarized Zone, removing them from North Korean artillery range.