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SEOUL — The city of Paju is demanding South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense return land formerly used by the U.S. military to the community.

About 5,000 protesters gathered at Paju Stadium late last week to urge the ministry to follow through.

City spokesman Chae Ho-jin said the ministry had promised to sell what was once the U.S. Army’s Camp Greaves to the city for about $574,000 when U.S. Forces Korea closed it in 2004.

City officials had a number of plans for the area, including an ecology park and an international cultural exchange complex.

Instead, Chae said, the land has sat vacant.

Chae said ministry officials told the city that the land, just south of the Demilitarized Zone, is critical to strategic defense plans and they plan to keep it.

"We continue to raise our claim for the land against the military authority," Chae said. "If Camp Greaves is so important in terms of the military strategy, why do they keep the camp vacant? It is nonsense."

The ministry disagrees with the city and its protesters.

A ministry news release said the camp has been slated for use by the South Korean military since April and about $8.5 million is allotted. The ministry also said the area is crucial to maintaining security near the border.

"As Paju citizens know very well, this area was infiltrated several times by armed spies crossing the Imjin River," the release said. "This region is significant and guarding it is in the best interest of the people’s safety."

Chae warned that if the land is not returned to the people of Paju, it could result in massive clashes between protesters and authorities prior to the Camp Humphreys expansion in Pyeongtaek.

Protest organizer Kim Baek-hyun said the city’s development has lagged due to a half-century of military bases in the area.

"Camp Greaves is very crucial place in the historical point of view to our residents," Kim said. "We want to keep this point alive rather than letting it be used by the military base again."

He said while the city is close to North Korea, security provisions are to a point that Paju residents don’t see a need for the base.

"We need our city developing. We will fight to the end," he said, adding another large gathering is being planned for mid-January.

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