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SEOUL — South Korea’s government must compensate eight people for letting the U.S. military use their land as training ranges, a Seoul district court has ruled.

Kim Myong-chon, 65, and seven other plaintiffs living in Paju City, northwest of Seoul, sued for damages in March 2002, saying their land has been used without permission.

This week, the court ordered the government to pay 40 million won (about $34,000) to the group, said Judge Kang Song-su.

The ruling is unprecedented, court officials said.

Involved is slightly less than 1,800 acres of land that South Korea gave the U.S. military in 1973.

Used for training, it became known as Story Range and Oklahoma Range.

“The government gave the land to the U.S. military without the owners’ consent. So they deserve the compensation,” Kang said in a telephone interview.

The suit was filed against the South Korean Justice Ministry, officials said.

The ministry attorney who handled the case was in the United States and unavailable for comment this week, a ministry official said.

Whether the government would appeal the verdict was not known.

In his ruling, Kang said the award covered the past five years; under South Korean law, he said, land claims such as this have a five-year statute of limitations.

According to the U.S.-South Korea status of forces agreement, South Korea’s government is to pay any damages U.S. soldiers or civilians incur while on official duty, Kang’s ruling stated.

A complex formula then is applied to the amount of damages to determine how much the U.S. military is to pay, according to the SOFA.

This case differed, officials said, because the payments were not for specific property damage. Only the South Korean government must pay, they said.

In other countries hosting U.S. forces, compensation for land is calculated in different ways.

On the Japanese island of Okinawa, for instance, property owners are paid annually based on the amount of their land used for training or U.S. installations.


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