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PYEONGTAEK, South Korea — The possible five-year delay in the move of U.S. forces to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek could inflict financial setbacks on those whose income is tied directly to the relocation but would otherwise pose little harm to the area’s overall economic plans, a Pyeongtaek City official said Wednesday.

Such a delay would spell financial woes mainly for real estate investors and merchants whose income is chiefly “dependent on the U.S. soldiers,” said the official, Choi Wang-gwoo, director of the city’s Department of Foreign Affairs.

U.S. forces in Seoul and points north are scheduled to relocate to Camp Humphreys by 2008 under a South Korea-U.S. agreement.

But South Korea’s defense ministry last month said the move might not happen before 2013. Questions over how the two countries would split project relocation costs were among reasons the Ministry of National Defense gave for the possible delay.

Some investors have sunk huge sums into building houses near Camp Humphreys for the eventual influx of more U.S. troops and their families, according to the private Realtors Association for USFK (RAU) in Pyeongtaek’s Anjung-ri section. The amount is just part of hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars in real estate investments tied to the military’s eventual move into the region.

Those who’ve invested borrowed money face interest payments, the RAU said last month. But with no money coming in from those properties, some investors may be unable to keep up payments if the relocation takes several years longer than they’d expected, the RAU said.

“There may be some damage to the people who built those rental houses,” Choi said in an interview with Stars and Stripes Wednesday.

And the possible delay could mean further financial strain for local merchants who cater largely to U.S. military customers, Choi said.

Merchants — owners of bars, restaurants and shops — have been counting on the relocation to pull them out of what they have said has been a two- to three-year slump brought on by fewer U.S. servicemembers in South Korea.

Those merchants rely heavily on customers from two Pyeongtaek military installations — Camp Humphreys in Anjung-ri and Osan Air Base in Songtan — for their income, local business leaders have said.

“We can’t wait for five years,” Kim Ki-ho, president of the Anjung-ri Merchants Association told Stars and Stripes last month. “No make money, no pay the rent.”

But while investors and merchants could be hard-hit if the delay occurs, Pyeongtaek City’s big economic “Superplan” exists apart from the U.S. military relocation project and should be unaffected, Choi said.

The “Superplan” calls for spending $18 billion by 2014 to develop Pyeongtaek into a major transportation hub. It would include upgrading the Pyeongtaek Port into a premier portal for trade with China and elsewhere in Northeast Asia.

It would also see a major upgrade in the region’s road and rail network, construction of a major tourist complex and a host of industrial, agricultural, research-and-development and other facilities aimed at turning Pyeongtaek into a leading trade and logistics hub, officials have said.

Meanwhile, Pyeongtaek City officials are expected to arrange a meeting sometime later this month with local business leaders to discuss what measures, if any, might be taken in case of a possible delay in the U.S. military relocation project.


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