Dongducheon hopes film brings support as troops leave
January 23, 2009
Just after the Korean War, the establishment of an American military camp in Dongducheon brought rumors of an economic windfall so rich, even stray dogs would run with U.S. dollars hanging from their mouths.
As time passed in the small city near the North Korean border, feelings about its role as a forced host to tens of thousands of Americans became more complicated, and more hidden.
Few talked about crime, including the prostitution, that brought shame to some. As the base grew to cover more than 40 percent of the city, Dongducheon officials bemoaned the losses in tax revenues. At the same time, many businesses grew dependent on their U.S. customers.
Now, city officials are highlighting the painful and complex history of their home in a 10-minute video whose title loosely translates as "After the Clearing of the Rain."
The city wants to use it as a campaign tool to persuade the South Korean government to provide more support to Dongducheon as it transforms from a military town into a commuter suburb for Seoul workers, according to Yeo Un-sung, a spokesman for the city government.
Under the current agreement between the U.S. and South Korea, most of the U.S. troops on the peninsula will move to Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, by 2012. Current negotiations may push that back to 2016, officials have told Stars and Stripes.
A proposal now in the National Assembly would provide 30 percent of the future sale of the U.S.-controlled land in Dongducheon to the city, according to Ahn Ki-young, a top aide to the Assembly member representing the city. South Korea’s Ministry of Defense, however, would like to use the sales money to pay the country’s portion of relocating the U.S. troops, according to Ahn.
The Dongducheon city spokesman described the effort as "too menial for the severe sacrifices the city has endured."
"We want the government to have more concern and more support for us," he said in a phone interview last week.
Yeo says that in the 1960s and 1970s, the presence of U.S. soldiers — primarily with the 2nd Infantry Division — strengthened the city’s economy. But more recently the soldiers’ spending power off base has not kept up with the city’s costs of building its police force and improving its transportation system, Yeo said.
With the news in recent years that much of the 2nd Infantry Division will move south to Pyeongtaek, city officials began clamoring within their own government for help with the change. Yeo said the city is eager for the soldiers to move on, yet city officials feel they need more money from the central government for the transition.
To this point, the video highlights some of the struggles the city has felt over the years. It talks of major incidents involving the U.S. soldiers, including a horrific rape and murder of a bar worker in 1992 and the accidental death of two teenage girls in 2002 involving a military convoy. It also quotes current residents who often say their hometown is Uijeongbu, a bigger suburb of Seoul that also has military bases, rather than admit they are from Dongducheon.
The city made 350 copies of the video for government officials. Yeo also said the city has no plans to ask U.S. Forces Korea for help in their argument for more federal support.
As of last week, Yeo said the city had received good response from residents about the film. Yeo said city officials had yet to hear from any federal lawmakers and added it was too early to assess the effectiveness of the campaign.
"We stay very optimistic about it," he said.