Bar ban brings call to talk
January 31, 2009
PYEONGTAEK, South Korea — The business leader who was at the center of a furor between local bar owners and a U.S. military commander in South Korea several years ago says the conflict holds a lesson that could help avert a similar scrape across town: a monthly meeting to head off potential off-limits orders.
Kim Ki-ho, president of the Anjung-ri Merchants Association in Pyeongtaek, was referring to the clash that arose in August 2005 after Col. Michael J. Taliento Jr., at the time the commander of Camp Humphreys, put 12 businesses off limits for allegedly allowing underage drinking and, in one case, prostitution or human trafficking.
The move triggered protests and weeks of rancor, including banners that merchants put up in the bar district outside Humphreys that read: "Commander Michael J. Taliento Jr., You go back to Afghanistan again."
The uproar led to a monthly meeting between the association and the Humphreys commander.
"We have to meet each other every month," Kim said. "We can talk about each problem. We can solve without any problem."
Across town and more than three years later, in Pyeongtaek’s Songtan section, eight local bars remain off limits after Air Force Col. Thomas H. Deale, commander of Osan’s 51st Fighter Wing, concluded they might have been allowing prostitution. Deale put four clubs off limits Jan. 23 and the others in November and December.
On Wednesday, owners met with Osan’s Armed Forces Disciplinary Control Board and agreed to take steps to ensure their bars are free of prostitution and human trafficking, and to inform the Air Force of those plans in hopes of being open to servicemembers again.
Although a base spokeswoman characterized Wednesday’s meeting as "cooperative," Kim on Thursday said Osan officials and the Songtan bar owners should consider the arrangement struck between the association and Humphreys.
In the wake of their conflict with Taliento, said Kim, the Anjung-ri merchants and the U.S. Army Garrison-Humphreys commander meet monthly to discuss anything that may be of mutual interest.
The meetings give the Humphreys commander, currently Col. John E. Dumoulin Jr., a chance to alert the merchants to any reports of illicit activity, and association members tell the bar owner in question to put a stop to it, Kim and Humphreys officials said Thursday.
If problems persist, the club would be put off limits "forever" with the association’s full support, Kim explained.
"That’s good idea," said Kim. "And then club owners, they have to listen to the base commander" should he provide evidence that a business is allowing anything the U.S. military considers grounds for off-limits status.
A Humphreys spokeswoman said garrison officials agree that the monthly meetings have been a helpful step for the Army’s relationship with the local business community.
Informed of Kim’s suggestion, Yi Jin-yong, a member of the Korean Special Tourist Association, which represents clubs and hotels in Songtan, said members would weigh the idea over the next week or so.
Osan spokeswoman 1st Lt. Malinda C. Singleton said Thursday that Deale was not immediately available to hear of Kim’s suggestion.
In September 2005, after Taliento lifted the ban on seven of the 12 businesses outside Humphreys, the merchants association put up new banners, this time telling Taliento, "We love you."
"Still," Kim said Thursday, "we have a good relationship" with Humphreys.