Call center for victims of US military crime to open in S. Korea
By ASHLEY ROWLAND AND YOO KYONG CHANG | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 11, 2013
SEOUL — South Korea will open a government-run call center later this month to handle compensation requests from people who believe they are victims of crimes committed by U.S. servicemembers.
The center will provide counseling and legal assistance, and is intended to “reduce inconveniences caused by complicated compensation procedures,” according to a Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement.
In addition to handling calls about crime, the center will advise people who claim to have been involved in traffic accidents with U.S. Forces Korea troops or suffered property damage because of U.S. military activities, such as environmental pollution from bases or crops damaged by aircraft crashes, officials said.
U.S. military crime is a sensitive issue in South Korea, where any such misconduct can make headlines and lead to protests and calls for the military to have better oversight of troops.
“We’re not making this center with bad intentions towards USFK,” said a MOFA official who heads the ministry’s status of forces agreement team. “We are doing this to explain the (compensation) procedures to people.”
He said he expects “many” inquiries from citizens, particularly those who live near USFK installations.
The Ministry of Justice did not immediately provide figures on crime committed by U.S. servicemembers. The strong public perception — widely promulgated by the media, police, government officials and politicians — is that it is rising.
Citizens who are hurt by USFK personnel can receive money from the South Korean government through a state compensation system, though procedures differ on whether the damage was caused by troops who were on or off duty.
Planning for the counseling center has been under way for more than a year, though funds were unavailable for it until now. Last year, the ministry began distributing information about obtaining compensation to citizens and to police and government offices in areas near U.S. installations.
A second SOFA team official said the ministry has received “some” requests for help since publishing that information, but she could not give an exact number. She said also said USFK has been supportive of the idea to open to the call center but has provided no support.
USFK did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The center will have a staff of two that includes an attorney and a budget of 100 million won, or about $88,500, through the end of the year.