Local official: USFK plans to scrap security at vacant bases
July 13, 2006
SEOUL — A Dongducheon city official and South Korean groups said Tuesday that U.S. Forces Korea no longer will pay its $400,000 per month tab for security and management at closed bases slated for return to the South Korean government.
Neither the South Korean government nor U.S. Forces Korea would confirm the reports.
The Dongducheon official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Stripes that USFK said it was pulling its security guards from Camp Nimble in mid-July and would take similar action at 14 bases across Area I. Seoul’s Hankoryeh newspaper reported similar news this week.
A USFK spokesman said security at the shuttered bases remained in place Tuesday but declined to discuss whether or when that status would change.
“It would be inappropriate for us to discuss specific dates at this point,” USFK wrote in an official statement Tuesday.
USFK maintains that the Status of Forces Agreement requires joint consent for release of official information regarding base handovers.
Group 4 Falck, the multinational company that provides USFK base security, was unavailable for comment Tuesday afternoon.
The South Korean Ministry of Defense deferred all questions to the Ministry of Environment, where an official said a news release would be issued “soon” but declined to elaborate.
A spokeswoman for the environmental group Green Korea said a Uijeongbu city official told the group USFK would stop paying its security contractor to guard the unused bases, which remain surrounded by barbed-wire fences.
The group views the potential action as a sign USFK is unwilling to pay for further environmental cleanup at the bases, the spokesman said.
“We hope they don’t make a foolish decision that is likely to turn the friendly recognition that the Korean people have of USFK toward hostility,” Green Korea spokeswoman Ko Ji-sun said.
USFK has closed 32 bases to date as part of its plan to consolidate U.S. forces around Camp Humphreys and Pyongtaek. The South Korean government has agreed to accept only seven of those bases over the past 19 months, citing unacceptable pollution levels.
Under the SOFA agreement, the United States isn’t required to restore the land to a pre-Korean war environment or compensate South Korea’s government for the land’s use. Nor is South Korea required to pay for what the Army says are billions of dollars worth of capital improvements on the 25 disputed bases’ 11,000 acres of land.
However, some South Korean lawmakers and environmental groups disagree over what constitutes “known, imminent, and substantial endangerments to human health,” which SOFA requires the U.S. to remedy before hand-over.
“We have met this requirement and we have done it in good faith,” Army Gen. B.B. Bell, USFK commander, told the Korea Defense and Security Forum in June.
During the past nine months, USFK offered to remove underground fuel tanks at the closed bases and treat underground water tables at five bases, Bell said. However, South Korean officials said the offer was not enough.
In February, South Korean news outlets obtained leaked environmental data showing high levels of petroleum byproducts and other chemicals in the soil at several sites scheduled for return. USFK and the South Korean government didn’t confirm the reports, citing the SOFA agreement.