SEOUL — A group of South Korean activists gathered in Seoul on Wednesday to blast their country’s decision to accept nine more closed U.S. military facilities.

Sixteen members of the environmentalist group Green Korea United and four people who live near the former Koon-ni Range gathered for about an hour outside South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade building in Seoul to demand a full-scale environmental cleanup of the returned bases. They condemned South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun’s administration for accepting the facilities and presented a letter of complaint to the ministry.

A Ministry of National Defense official said Wednesday that the decision to accept the facilities was made during Security Policy Initiative talks between U.S. and South Korean officials last month.

The status of forces agreement between the countries states that USFK can return land without environmental treatment of pollutants beyond those posing “known, imminent, and substantial endangerments to human health.” In return, South Korea receives the sites and infrastructure, which USFK estimates as worth more than $1 billion, at no cost.

When the United States began its push in recent years to return closed bases as part of the transformation of its forces, South Korea balked and refused to accept the facilities.

In April 2006, USFK announced that it would go beyond its SOFA requirements by removing underground fuel tanks at all returned bases and heavy metals from firing ranges. USFK also contracted with a South Korean company to remove fuel contamination of ground water at five closed camps.

After 18 months, South Korea finally accepted 15 closed facilities in July 2006.

A joint statement South Korea’s ministries of defense, environment and foreign affairs at the time stated, “Although negotiations fell short of the expectations of our government, we believe we have done our best to draw out the best outcome, based on seeing other overseas examples.”

USFK officials have said they will return 59 camps totaling more than 33,000 acres in the next three years.

Outside the MOFAT on Wednesday, activists carried signs demanding that the United States clean up its bases and calling for South Korea to re-open negotiations.

Green Korea’s Seo Jae-chul said the U.S. military is avoiding its responsibility in cleaning up the land.

And the South Korean government, “remains silent,” and accepted contaminated lands, Seo said. He added that a “equal and reciprocal alliance between Korea and the U.S. cannot” exist until the issue is resolved.

After a series of speeches, the activists brought a big box covered in pink wrapping paper with a matching ribbon. A statement on the box explained it was the gift of returned bases from the United States to South Korea.

When they ripped the paper off the box, the contents included a fake “PCB Poisons,” explosives and oil-contaminated containers.

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