S. Korean cities welcoming, wary of Army move
Stars and Stripes June 15, 2003
TAEGU, South Korea — Getting thousands of U.S. troops as new neighbors almost certainly should be good news for businesses and tourism, said officials in an area due to receive relocated troops.
But the potential impact on quality of life has those officials concerned.
Plans were announced last week to eventually shift a large portion of the 37,000 U.S. troops in South Korea from near the Demilitarized Zone to areas south of Seoul.
Pyongtaek likely will be among the locales.
While “some part of the local economy will get activated,” fears do exist, said Woo Chae-kyong, head of Pyongtaek’s public affairs division. “Some are expressing their worries on education, environmental problems and some possible crimes.”
The 14,000 troops in the U.S. Army’s 2nd Infantry Division would consolidate in an area 75 miles south of the DMZ region. according to recent joint U.S.-South Korean announcement. But a date and destination remain uncertain, the Army said. The division now garrisons a string of camps north of Seoul near the heavily fortified frontier with North Korea.
U.S. and South Korean officials have also agreed to move about 6,000 of the 7,000 8th Army troops at Yongsan Garrison in Seoul south to Camp Humphreys, near Pyongtaek. The planned shifts are part of a wider Pentagon game plan to reposition U.S. forces worldwide.
Seoul residents have complained Yongsan Garrison takes up too much prime real estate in the city’s center and adds to traffic congestion.
Pyongtaek city officials said a prospective influx of U.S. troops probably would be good for the local business community.
“If U.S. troops are moving here, the tourism areas would get some benefit from them,” said Chong Hae-young, of the city’s economic affairs division. “And we will see, as public servants, what we can do to support those local merchants administratively” — by issuing better tourism maps, for instance.
But at present, Woo said, “No official actions have been planned. ... Maybe after hearing the exact timetable, we will do something.”
Lee Eun-woo, head of the Pyongtaek Citizens’ Alliance, a local activist group, has other ideas.
“I object” to the prospective troop move, he said. “It doesn’t help at all in developing Pyongtaek City and improving Pyongtaek residents’ quality of life. It may cause more environmental problems as well. It seems bad from educational, environmental and local administrative aspects.”
Lee said a variety of local civic groups have voiced opposition since the shifts first were discussed more than a year ago. The groups were to meet Friday to discuss mounting fresh protests.
U.S. troop shifts also would affect areas the troops would leave. The 2nd Infantry Division, for instance, has been in its current location since July 1965.
“They are taking huge spaces and if they really leave here, some construction work, especially roads, will get going, and some traffic problems can be solved,” said Lee Byong-woo, an economic affairs official with Uijongbu, the city in which the division’s Camp Red Cloud headquarters is located.
“Many local shops have already closed, even before the news was released. So I don’t think there will be much damage to the economic sector compared to Tongduchon City.”
Tongduchon, north of Uijongbu, is the site of Camp Casey, another major 2nd Infantry Division installation. A move south by the division could be bad news for the thousands of Koreans working for the Army at Camp Casey, said Ko Hyun-jin, Tongduchon city’s public affairs chief.
Many Koreans work either on the installation or in local businesses it benefits, he said.
“There are about 5,000 people and among them, about 3,200 people live in this city,” Ko said. “If I include the family members, that would come to more than 10,000 people. Some will follow south and some will retire. So the move will affect the economy of this city a lot.
“I don’t know what could be done. ... Maybe some help by the government would be needed.”
City council members will form a committee, he added.
“When the move happens, this committee will listen to what city residents have to say and take some measures. ... We’re just watching it now,” he said.
At least one anti-U.S. activist in Uijongbu said he’d welcome U.S. troops’ departure but was dissatisfied with a mere relocation.
“It’s like moving U.S. forces to another area,” said Lee Byong-soo, who heads a group called the Uijongbu Citizens Solidarity for Peace Without USA Bases.
“Even if U.S. troops are moving out of North Kyonggi Province,” said Lee, “there are many things left to be considered. ... Who is paying for the move, and how this ... area is going to be used by the government? We will monitor how all these matters are going since it is such a big issue in North Kyonggi Province.”
“In any kind of change,” said Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, 8th U.S. Army spokesman, “there’s ups and downs, there’s pluses and minuses.
“And what those are it’s too early to determine. We haven’t gotten that far in the discussions to know what’s going to happen.”
— Choe Song-won contributed to this report.