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YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — About 800 of the 2,900 Korean national employees in the 2nd Infantry Division area will lose their jobs as a result of base consolidation plans, U.S. Forces Korea said Tuesday.

And effective immediately, the command has imposed a hiring freeze for all Korean national employee positions on U.S. Army installations throughout South Korea, to try to fill open jobs with those employees facing layoffs.

Military officials and personnel administrators are identifying which 800 Area I jobs will be eliminated, officials said, with the first layoff notifications likely to be distributed within a month.

“With the consolidation of 2ID moving head in Area I north of Seoul, and the redeployment of Second Brigade to Iraq later this summer, authorities are carefully evaluating current conditions while planning for flexibility in future needs,” Lt. Col. Deborah Betrand, a USFK spokeswoman, said in a news release.

“We are taking everything one step at a time, making every effort to minimize the impact on individuals, while still carrying out our mission and realigning the forces according to our agreements with the Republic of Korea. We believe the hiring freeze is a prudent measure to take toward reorganizing effectively at this particular point in time.”

The Korean Employees Union, which held a massive rally outside Yongsan Garrison last month to protest just such possible job actions, reacted swiftly to the announcement.

“I am deeply saddened by the military’s lack of responsibility and negligence toward their Korean employees,” said Kang In-shik, president of the KEU and a Camp Humphreys employee.

“But we will continue to voice our opinion, since we are the ones directly affected by these decisions.”

The KEU will hold a rally at Uijongbu Station, near the 2nd Infantry Division headquarters, on Thursday, Kang said. He expects some 1,000 workers to attend.

At the June 24 Yongsan Garrison rally, thousands of employees chanted slogans, waved banners and marched to the base gates. One union leader sliced open his fingers, using his own blood to scrawl on a paper banner “Defending peoples’ rights to survive.”

Union leaders fear cuts of up to 40 percent of the estimated 18,000 base jobs held by Korean nationals throughout the peninsula. Previously, U.S. officials have said existing agreements require the military to provide six months’ notice for job actions and have said they would “strive towards that end.”

In Tuesday’s release, USFK said efforts would be made to place RIF (reduction-in-force) employees in vacant positions throughout Korea. Those reassignments could be to “similar jobs in different locations” or to “different jobs” entirely. According to civilian personnel officials, units or organizations with open positions will not be given a choice about whether to accept the RIF employees assigned to their open jobs.

Some employees could be entitled to extra money in addition to severance pay, USFK said, and some of the employees affected might be eligible for retirement.

U.S. officials defended the action as a necessary corollary to realignment and reduction plans affecting the U.S. military presence in South Korea. Under one proposal, 12,500 troops could be pulled out of Korea by 2005.

“We recognize the turmoil that an action of this magnitude causes,” Lt. Gen. Charles C. Campbell, USFK chief of staff and 8th Army commander, said, according to the release.

“Our objective is to make every effort to accommodate our Korean employees as much as we can, and to make sure they have all the information they need as we move ahead in this process. Both the U.S. military and U.S. civilian workforces experienced this stressful transition as we went through reduction-in-force in the last decade in the U.S. It is not an easy adjustment but we will do all we can to assist each of the dedicated individuals involved.”

Jennifer Kleckner contributed to this report.

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