SEOUL — Protesters are glad to see them go. Supporters want them to stay. And the mayor is riding the fence on the announcement that U.S. troops are leaving Gwangju after less than two years in the city.

U.S. officials confirmed Thursday that the 2nd Battalion, 1st Air Defense Artillery Regiment, part of the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, is to be moved to Camp Carroll, about 40 minutes north of Daegu, by year’s end.

“On one hand, we are very pleased,” said Park Sang-chun, a representative for about 100 civic groups that protested stationing the Patriot missile battalion at the South Korean military’s Gwangju Air Base. But “just to relocate the base to another area in Korea,” he said, “the problem remains the same substantially.”

Members of his group have held weekly protests outside the base gate every Friday since November 2004. He said Friday’s protest was their 90th and that members feel they’ve done their part in making the soldiers move from the city.

The Army has said since moving the unit in October 2004 to South Korea from Fort Bliss, Texas, that the Gwangju location was temporary.

Stationing the troops in the city, however, created local controversy because it is the site of the 1980 “Gwangju Uprising” in which South Korean troops killed a large number of pro-democracy protesters. In May of that year, pro-democracy demonstrations erupted following political turmoil, including a presidential assassination and internal military coup. South Korean paratroopers and Gwangju residents battled before elite troops finally gained control of the city.

Many blamed the United States for not doing more to stop the bloodshed.

When the Army sent the Patriots to Gwangju, former South Korean Ambassador Park Young-chol helped smooth the transition. Park, the Korean American Friendship Society Gwangju chapter president, traveled to Bliss in 2004 to foster a relationship with Army leaders before the move. He also worked with the local community.

During a phone interview Friday, Park said he was sad when he was informed unofficially of the move about a week ago. He said he was told the protesters played a role in the Army’s decision to move the battalion now.

“We were very shocked and surprised” to hear the announcement, Park said. “We’ve fought very much against the protesters.”

He said young people who want the U.S. military off the peninsula don’t understand history and the value of having the alliance here.

The protesters don’t represent the Gwangju people, Park said.

“They are very minor … not the majority,” he said. “The residents of Gwangju city are very sorry” about the move.

Gwangju Mayor Park Gwang-tae faxed a written response to a Stars and Stripes query on Friday.

He wrote that he was relieved to learn of the decision to move the U.S. troops, in part because the weekly protests outside the base could have rekindled some sort of anti-American sentiments.

“But also as mayor, I feel bad in light of national and regional security,” he wrote.

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