S. Korea to set aside land for base growth
August 27, 2004
SEOUL — The South Korean government has confirmed it plans to allot large tracts of public and private land to accommodate what will become expanded U.S. military hubs at Osan Air Base and Camp Humphreys.
Under its plan, released this week by the Ministry of National Defense, the government will purchase or “otherwise procure” about 3,000 acres in the Pyongtaek area for the expanded U.S. installations.
The bulk of the growth will occur at Camp Humphreys, an Army helicopter base, which will expand to about 3,500 acres after the additions, officials said. Osan Air Base, home to a pair of fighter wings, will expand to about 2,300 acres.
Both bases are in the Pyongtaek region, about forty miles south of Seoul and the U.S. military headquarters at Yongsan Garrison. Under plans finalized at the 11th round of Future of the Alliance Talks last week in Seoul, Yongsan will be closed by 2008 and the land it sits on will be returned to the South Korean government.
According to the Ministry of National Defense, about 950 acres the U.S. military occupies in Seoul are being returned in exchange for the roughly 3,000 acres in Pyongtaek. Seoul city officials have said they want to turn the former Yongsan Garrison into a green space rivaling Central Park in New York City.
U.S. Forces Korea also announced last week the early closure and return of nine 2nd Infantry Division camps. Those bases are to be vacated by the end of this year, according to USFK and the South Korean ministry.
The move, an amendment to the Land Partnership Plan between the two nations, also was the result of the last FOTA talks, officials said.
The land plans now will face two final hurdles: local landowners and the South Korean National Assembly. While many business owners and landowners welcome the expanded U.S. bases — and the expected boost to housing rental, retail and entertainment outlets — others are balking at giving up or selling their land.
According to the defense ministry, abount 300 existing homes are on land that’s to become part of the larger bases. Negotiations to buy those homes will begin soon, officials said.
South Korean officials held the first of several public forums in Pyongtaek late last week, with local media reporting both positive and negative local reaction.
On the second front, the legislature must approve final plans for reshuffling the bases — and some lawmakers have promised bills to protest a provision that holds South Korea responsible for the entire cost of the Yongsan move, estimated at $3 billion to $4 billion.
And amid all of this, South Korea and the United States have opened negotiations on a U.S. proposal to remove 12,500 troops from the peninsula by the end of next year. South Korean officials have asked for delay of at least one year in any such reduction.