Anti-war talk by S. Koreans citedas cause for 9 p.m. curfew
PYONGTAEK, South Korea — The U.S. military Friday imposed a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew until further notice because of possible violence in South Korea stemming from Korea’s military involvement in Iraq.
The restrictions apply not only to active-duty military personnel, but also to civilian employees and contractors and their families, said Kevin Krejcarek, a U.S. Forces Korea spokesman.
In addition, U.S. military installations in South Korea were stepping up security measures, including increased patrols, random vehicle stops and tighter visitor screening. Additional South Korean police were posted outside U.S. installations and other facilities, U.S. authorities said.
“It applies to everyone associated with the military, of all types … and is for their safety,” Krejcarek said of the curfew. That includes, for example, teachers working for the Department of Defense Dependent Schools, civilian contractors and family members of those associated with the U.S. military, Krejcarek said.
“We just want people off the street, not to gather in places where many Americans gather,” he said.
The USFK action followed a message issued by the U.S. Embassy in Seoul that warned of possible demonstrations and violence against American facilities and personnel in South Korea because of “the recent public announcement regarding the dispatch of Korean troops to Iraq.”
In addition, the embassy cited ongoing concern over the threat of terror attacks in the United States and overseas carried out by al-Qaida or other terror groups.
“American citizens and their family members are strongly encouraged to maintain a high level of personal security awareness, especially in areas where large numbers of American citizens congregate,” the embassy statement read. “Tourist and shopping areas in the vicinity of USFK bases are considered especially vulnerable to terrorist attacks and American citizens should avoid these places as much as possible.”
The embassy did not disclose more specific information.
“We are not in a position to add any additional details at this time. As noted in the message, South Korean police authorities have increased security patrols around U.S. facilities, and we hope that people will follow the advice to maintain a high level of personal security awareness,” the embassy said in a later statement.
“The American Embassy has issued a warning, which USFK is following closely,” Krejcarek said.
The actions are the second time in the past week U.S. officials have gone public with security warnings.
Attendance was restricted at last weekend’s Osan Air Base air show after unspecified intelligence warnings were passed from South Korean police to military security officials.
Officials would not say Friday whether the warnings are related.
Friday’s actions coincide with the start of South Korea’s Chusok holiday, a major national event in which many businesses close and South Koreans travel for extended visits with relatives. The Chusok holiday period began Friday night and ends Wednesday night.
The curfew puts a damper on a four-day weekend for many U.S. military personnel, who are taking Monday and Tuesday off as “training holidays.”
Officials at U.S. military installations around South Korea said they were working out details of just how they will step up security and observe the curfew.
At Yongsan Garrison, two high-traffic gates were closed midday Friday.
At Kunsan Air Base on South Korea’s west coast, officials expanded to 24 hours the time period airmen must observe the “buddy wingman” system, which requires that airmen be accompanied by at least one person when they go off base.
Previously, the buddy system was in effect from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., said 1st Lt. Michelle Estep, Kunsan’s 8th Fighter Wing spokeswoman.
In addition, Kunsan’s usual weekend “town patrols” would skip the “America Town” entertainment district outside the base, Estep said.
Instead, “since nobody is going to be in America Town after 9 p.m., they’ll just patrol” on-base locations that are typical gathering spots for airmen — squadron dens and lounges, the community activity center and similar spots, Estep said.
Officials at some installations said the curfew would mean large numbers of servicemembers spending the weekend on their installations rather than their usual haunts outside the installations.
Accordingly, officials were gearing up extra entertainment and recreational services.
At Kunsan, airmen have a four-day holiday in observance of Chusok, and the 8th Services Squadron already had set up a weekend of special events.
But with the announcement of the 9 p.m. curfew, they were working to add even more activities.
“Services is excited,” said Estep. “It’s going to be a very big weekend for them, I’m sure.”
Similar security and troop morale measures were being worked at Osan, Maj. Wesley Miller, public affairs chief for the base, said Friday.
“We anticipate that services is going to be upping their things this weekend and trying to create more things for people to do on base,” Miller said.
He said base security officials also were working out “some adjustments with gate hours and when we’re going to have driving and pedestrian traffic.”