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SEOUL — South Korean merchants have halted a weeklong protest against the Area III commander and once again opened their bars and nightclubs to U.S. military personnel, officials confirmed late Friday afternoon.

Kim Ki-ho of the Anjung-ri Merchants Association and Yi Hun-hi of the Korea Foreigner Tourist Facility Association met Friday morning with Area III commander Col. Michael J. Taliento Jr. and Brig. Gen. Steven M. Anderson, deputy commanding general of U.S. Forces Korea (Advance Element), Kim said.

Bar and club owners began protesting Taliento on Monday, closing their businesses and calling for his immediate resignation following the colonel’s decision to place two local clubs off-limits to USFK personnel.

The clubs — Duffy’s and Bay Watch — were placed off-limits beginning June 26 after undercover Criminal Investigative Command agents tracked underage drinking violations.

Bar owners objected to Taliento’s decision, saying the agent who ordered the alcohol was of legal drinking age while the agent who paid was underage. They called it a “sting operation” in which they were set up to fail.

Kim said USFK personnel on Friday admitted fault in the recent undercover investigations. Kim said future checks are to be conducted by U.S. military personnel, members of the merchant’s association and Pyeongtaek city officials.

And while bars are required to do everything they can to prevent sales to minors, they won’t be held responsible for personnel who legally buy alcohol then sneak it to underage buddies, Kim said.

Calls and e-mail messages to Area III spokeswoman Susan Barkley went unanswered Friday, and U.S. Forces Korea officials were unable to comment on details from the Friday’s meeting.

USFK spokesman Col. Franklin Childress did say that Taliento — whom he said the USFK command fully endorses — and Anderson have been “fully engaged with the mayor and numerous other local officials over the past several days and we believe that we have an agreed-upon way ahead.”

Kim said that Taliento promised to reinstate late-night bus service that had been suspended in a move local merchants believed forced troops to return to base an hour before their official weekend curfew.

Taliento has said discipline problems — including underage drinking, fighting and other misconduct — forced him to suspend the late-night on-base bus service in December.

Now, the last bus that runs from the front gate to the living areas leaves at midnight. Troops can stay out until the 1 a.m. weekend curfew, but if they do they must either catch a taxi or hike a couple of miles to the barracks.

According to Kim, Taliento said the on-post service will begin running until 1:30 a.m.

Kim also said that merchants and U.S. officials have agreed to meet monthly to discuss ongoing problems and seek improvements and solutions.

“I am not entirely satisfied with today’s agreement, though some of our proposals and complaints are accepted,” Kim told Stars and Stripes.

“There are still plenty of things that need to be fixed and improved.”

Kim said military patrols through the district seem excessive and tend to create a hostile environment for off-duty troops trying to enjoy themselves.

“When stationed in foreign nations, you have to get a good grasp of local people’s sentiments and try to understand them,” he said. You can’t win by “ignoring and fighting against residents’ feelings.”

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