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SEOUL — South Korea’s government has assumed responsibility for the security of three more U.S. bases but has not yet agreed to take the land without further negotiation over environmental cleanup, a Ministry of Defense spokesman said Tuesday.

South Korean security forces now are guarding camps Kyle, Gray and Garry Owen as part of an agreement separate from the handover of 15 U.S. sites on July 15, the spokesman said. The 15 sites were handed over without further debate over their environmental status after more than 18 months of stalled negotiations.

On the heels of criticism by environmental groups and some lawmakers for accepting bases they say are polluted, the ministry says it will continue to pursue U.S.-funded cleanups of camps Kyle, Gray and Garry Owen.

The Ministry of Defense took “the keys of those three U.S. bases from USFK but only to assist with providing security over the bases,” said ministry spokesman Maj. Joo Myoung-soo. “No official documents have been made for the return agreement.”

On Tuesday, a U.S. Forces Korea spokesman confirmed the handover of the three additional bases.

The United States had been spending $400,000 each month to guard unused sites slated for handover before July 15, according to USFK. The Ministry of Defense now will guard those sites against theft or vandalism, according to a ministry press release.

USFK has maintained it will remedy only “known, imminent, and substantial endangerments to human health;” in return, South Korea receives billions of dollars worth of building and infrastructure for free, according to the status of forces agreement reached under a previous administration.

South Korean lawmakers and environmental groups have cited leaked data showing groundwater and soil pollution exceeding national standards at several sites. Some have claimed cleanup costs will reach billions of dollars.

Talks continue toward seeking “the right balances that Korea and the U.S. can share,” Joo said.

On July 20, lawmakers for the ruling Uri party said at a news conference that handover has been overly favorable to the United States. They said they’ve since scheduled closed-door National Assembly hearings on the issue.

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