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ARLINGTON, Va. — Other than outgoing U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Leon J. LaPorte, U.S. military commanders overseas have a long way to go in understanding and fighting human trafficking, the experts in the subject said Thursday.

LaPorte “has been personally seized with the issue” and “he obviously has it at this point,” when it comes to discouraging troops to support trafficking, Maureen Walsh, general counsel for the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is also called the Helsinki Commission.

Walsh made her comments during a Thursday session on human trafficking and peacekeeping operations held by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.

“While there’s a lot of language” from U.S. military officials condemning the practice of abducting and selling human beings, “we need to see much more senior leadership and resources coming from the Department of Defense to address the issue of human trafficking,” according to Sarah Mendelson, a CSIS senior fellow and moderator of Thursday’s discussion.

“I would rank the United States high in the area of rhetoric, and low in the area of implementation [of announced policies],” said another panelist, Martina Vandenberg, an attorney with Washington law firm Jenner & Block.

The U.S. military’s exception to the rule, the panelists said, is LaPorte, a four-star general who took command of U.S. Forces Korea in May 2002.

In the wake of a report by Fox News affiliate alleging U.S. military members in South Korea were involved with trafficked prostitutes, LaPorte has worked with his own commanders, military police and Korean officials to raise awareness about trafficking, and to crack down on soldiers who frequent bars where trafficked women may work.

LaPorte’s public service messages about prostitution and human trafficking continue to run on military television and radio, and U.S. soldiers routinely patrol bars just outside military bases with Korean police, monitoring the behaviors of both the American servicemembers and the Korean bar owners.

If a bar is known to employ sex workers, their local commanders forbid military members to go there.

LaPorte “really has taken on a tremendous leadership role,” Walsh said.

In an interview with Stripes in the fall of 2004, LaPorte said nearly 400 servicemembers had been punished for offenses related to prostitution.

“It is clearly incongruent with our values as an institution,” he said. “And it is clearly incongruent with our values as a nation.”

LaPorte’s tour in South Korea is almost over. Gen. Burwell B. Bell III, commander of U.S. Army Europe, is his replacement. The Senate confirmed Bell in October, though his arrival date in South Korea has not been announced.


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