Hongdae district is placed off-limits to SOFA personnel at night
SEOUL — U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. B.B. Bell has placed the Hongdae party district off limits to his personnel at night.
The move comes a little more than two weeks after a soldier was accused of raping a South Korean woman in the district, but USFK officials said Bell’s decision was not in reaction to that incident. The action keeps all troops and civilians — including family members, civilian employees and contractors — from the area from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily beginning Wednesday night.
Bell made the call “in order to increase the safety and protection” of his personnel, according to a military news release.
Army Pvt. Geronimo Ramirez, charged Jan. 30 with aggravated rape, has been held in police custody since they say they nabbed him fleeing from the Jan. 14 attack. He is accused of assaulting the 67-year-old woman as she returned from an early morning cleaning job. Police have said Ramirez raped the woman three times in a 40-minute period before a police patrol finally heard her screams and responded.
A USFK spokesman declined to discuss the threats posed to the U.S. military community when queried Thursday afternoon.
“We will not detail force-protection reasons; however, the potential for threats against U.S. Forces Korea personnel in that area remain high,” Air Force Lt. Col. Wayne Perry wrote in an e-mail response.
The off-limits area is just a few miles west of Yongsan Garrison — headquarters for the U.S. military in South Korea. It includes the bar district and nearby Hongik University, according to the release.
No other Americans are being warned to avoid the area, according to the U.S. Embassy in Seoul. An embassy spokeswoman said Thursday the State Department has not issued any threat alerts.
Previously, troops were banned from the eclectic neighborhood of bars, discos and nightclubs from Dec. 2, 2002, until May 1, 2006, because of “force-protection concerns.” Even though it technically was off-limits at the time, it was a popular all-night destination because the military police did not run courtesy patrols like they do in the Itaewon entertainment district outside Yongsan Garrison.
Hongdae was re-opened to troops last year after Korean National Police, U.S. military police and force-protection officials conducted a combined threat assessment, officials said.
Prosecutors said Thursday that Ramirez faces his first court appearance at 10 a.m. on Feb. 14 in Seoul Central District Court. Jin Hyo-guen, a South Korean attorney hired by the U.S. military, will defend the 23-year-old soldier.
Ramirez, a member of the 2nd Infantry Division’s Company E, 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, wrote the woman a letter in which he apologized for an attack he says he doesn’t remember because he was “so intoxicated.”
The woman remained hospitalized this week, officials told Stripes on Tuesday.
If convicted, Ramirez would face a prison term of five years to life, South Korean legal officials have said.
Area police said Thursday they’ve already planned to boost patrols in the area. They had no comment on Bell’s declaring the area off-limits.
And both military and civilian personnel are warned that the order is punitive, according to the news release.
Troops who violate the order may be subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice or other disciplinary or administrative action. Military officials have said administrative actions for civilians can range from a warning letter to termination of government quarters, community service to being banned from military installations.