YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Seoul city officials said Monday they will buy the land on which the U.S. military’s Camp Kim now sits by next year.

Camp Kim, which occupies 11.5 acres of land adjacent to Yongsan Garrison, is estimated to cost 86 billion won, about $72 million, officials said. Seoul plans to pay half the amount to South Korea’s Defense Ministry this year and the rest the next.

“The negotiation is still ongoing with the Defense Ministry, but if things are going smoothly, we sure hope to buy it,” said Shin Jong-woo of the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s Financial Affairs Bureau.

The sticking point, though, is the Defense Ministry’s wish to turn the land — now considered a “green area” — into a commercial development zone, then selling it at a higher cost. Seoul City opposes that as “reckless city development,” Shin said.

Zoning allows taller buildings in commercial than in green areas, boosting the land’s value — and the price Seoul City could expect to have to pay.

Shin speculated the commercial zoning plan was a way for the Defense Ministry to raise money to pay for Yongsan Garrison’s relocation out of Seoul. Under agreements reached between the United States and South Korea, U.S. troops are to move from Seoul to areas near Pyongtaek and Osan by 2006. That would leave South Koreans facing billions in moving costs and millions more to purchase land for new military hubs.

Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Kim Ki-bom said Monday that “no official remarks are pertinent.” When asked how Seoul City plans to use the Camp Kim land, Shin said, “The Yongsan District Office once suggested that we better build a new administrative complex out of the area so that the dispersed government offices can be located at the same area. But everything is up in the air for now.”

Earlier last month, the U.S military turned the small Arirang Taxi site back to South Korea, and the Yongsan District Office purchased it from the Defense Ministry for 55 billion won, or $45 million.

The Yongsan District Office originally planned to develop an international convention center that can be connected with the Itaewon area, but it is reconsidering the plan since many conditions have been changed recently, officials said.

“Whatever it will be, the new construction that is to be built there will reflect Yongsan-gu residents’ opinions and boost the local economy,” Choe Boo-kyu, of the Yongsan District Office’s Finance Administration Bureau, said Monday.

The return of the 10,000 square meter plot, also adjacent to Yongsan Garrison, was the first hand-over of land under the consolidation and realignment plan.

Under the agreement, almost half of the U.S. bases in South Korea, including 28 combat and support facilities and three training ranges and more than half of the land they occupy, is to be handed over by 2011.

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