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SEOUL — Santa’s sleigh may be trimmed down next year for U.S. servicemembers.

Since 1989, the Korean Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs has given a gift to each of the 37,000 U.S. servicemembers stationed in South Korea.

But some South Korean government employees — who involuntarily give a small slice of their paycheck for the program — are grumbling due to a new wave of anti-U.S. military sentiment.

“I oppose having USFK in the program since they are taking advantage of being here already,” said Song Dong-ho of the general affairs office of the Koyang City Hall. “I’m not anti-American, but I don’t think we should donate money for them. They’re using our land to train. That’s just enough.”

The program continued this year, and servicemembers received a framed piece of barbed wire from the Demilitarized Zone, a fitting present signifying their role as a deterrent to North Korea. The ministry spent about $83,000 for USFK’s gifts, said Kang Myong-jung, a planning officer with the ministry.

That figure is about 2 percent of the $2.5 million program, which also gives group gifts to South Korean military units. The program, started in 1973, is funded by a 0.4 percent deduction from government workers’ paychecks, Kang said.

“Is it really necessary?” asked Choe, who also works in Koyang City Hall but did not want to be fully identified. “I don’t feel bad about the whole USFK, just those of them that are causing problems, but I don’t feel real favorable towards USFK.”

Kang didn’t say if the complaints resulted from the acquittal of two U.S. soldiers in November of negligence in the death of two Korean schoolgirls in an armored vehicle accident. But Kang is preparing a report on if the program should continue despite anti-U.S. military feelings.

There’s a chance the program won’t continue in following years, Kang said.

The gift “is a very meaningful souvenir that is very appropriate for American forces members serving in Korea,” said Lee Ferguson, USFK spokeswoman said. “This gift helps remind our men and women of their service in Korea and why their presence in Korea was needed.”

During a ceremony on base last week, a few servicemembers were presented with the framed, barbed-wire gift. The gift has since been distributed to U.S. units around Korea.

Not all South Korean government employees favor sacking the program, however.

“I think some anti-American protests have their own good reasons, but we can’t deny that they are contributing for the defense of South Korea,” said Kim Young-ook, head of the Welfare Services Bureau of the MPVA.

It’s good USFK is included in the program, said Hwang Young-hae of the General Services Division of the MPVA.

“They are serving here for South Korea and the program can help them have a good impression of South Korea,” Hwang said.

— Choe Song-won contributed to this report.


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