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SEOUL — U.S. Force Korea officials confirmed Sunday that an alleged Jan. 14 rape was considered in last week’s decision to ban personnel from the Hongdae party district between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. daily.

When first queried Thursday, USFK officials told Stars and Stripes that Gen. B.B. Bell’s decision was not in reaction to the rape. The story’s Page 1 headline Saturday stated, “USFK officials say restricted hours not related to rape case.”

But USFK claims the headline was misleading and that the decision was related to — but not in reaction to — the alleged rape.

The “pending rape case was one of a number of factors considered in the decision to place the area off limits,” according to a Sunday statement from USFK spokesman Col. Franklin Childress.

He did not say what other factors were considered.

“As a matter of policy, we do not discuss the process for placing establishments or areas on the off limits list for force protection, but in this case we felt we needed to address the error in the headline,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Bell ordered the curfew to begin Wednesday night “in order to increase the safety and protection” of his personnel, according to the command. They declined, however, to say what threats exist to military community members in that neighborhood.

“We will not detail force-protection reasons; however, the potential for threats against U.S. Forces Korea personnel in that area remain high,” a spokesman wrote in an e-mail response Thursday.

No other Americans are being warned to avoid the area, a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said last week.

Pvt. Geronimo Ramirez, 23, is accused of raping a 67-year-old South Korean woman after he spent all night drinking in bars in Hongdae. He remains in South Korean custody, and his first appearance in Seoul Central District Court on aggravated rape charges is scheduled for Feb. 14.

Hongdae — and nearby Hongik University — had been placed off-limits to U.S. troops from December 2002 to May 2006 because of unspecified “force-protection concerns.” The area was opened back up to the military in May after South Korean and U.S. personnel conducted a combined threat assessment and deemed it safe.

USFK stressed that the latest curfew is applicable to all U.S. military community personnel, including family members, civilian employees and contractors.

And according to an Area II news release, the order is punitive. Troops caught in the neighborhood after curfew could face disciplinary or administrative action. And administrative action against civilians also can be enforced. Military officials have said those actions can range from a letter of warning to base debarment, forced termination of government quarters or community action.

The curfew does not apply to Koreans who work with the military.


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