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SEOUL — The South Korean Ministry of Defense chose a five-company group Tuesday as its preferred contractor to relocate U.S. bases between Seoul and the Demilitarized Zone to Camp Humphreys, south of Seoul in Pyeongtaek.

U.S. company CH2M Hill won the competitive bidding process as part of a consortium with South Korean companies Kunwon Engineering, Yooshin Engineering, ITM and TOPEC Engineering & Consulting.

The two governments will now open contract negotiations with the group. Government officials hope to have a contract in place by mid-May, a spokesman with the ministry’s USFK Base Relocation Office said.

“We estimated about 160 billion won ($173 million) to employ a consortium to manage the project,” the spokesman said. It is unclear how much of the cost U.S. Forces Korea will pay, he said.

USFK officials Tuesday referred all questions to the South Korean Ministry of Defense.

The two countries are expected to almost evenly split costs for the overall relocation.

The 10-member panel took nine months to select the winning bid, the spokesman said. The panel included equal representation from both countries and considered technology and past performance among its criteria.

South Korean officials have not decided whether they will pursue a five-year contract or an annual contract, the spokesman said.

USFK and South Korea had originally agreed to move the bases by the end of 2008. However, political unrest and other delays caused South Korea to push the date back to 2013, which disappointed USFK command.

The two sides have since said that the move could be completed as early as 2012. USFK commander Gen. B.B. Bell has argued strongly for moving the bases as quickly as possible, saying living standards for servicemembers stationed north of Seoul are unacceptable.

Most servicemembers at bases like Dongducheon’s Camp Casey and Uijeongbu’s Camp Red Cloud serve unaccompanied tours. The expanded facilities at Camp Humphreys, about two hours south of Seoul, will allow servicemembers to live with their families.

The Englewood, Colo.-based CH2M Hill is a multinational engineering, consulting, construction and operations company. Kuwon managed construction of World Cup Stadium, while Yooshin and ITM both performed work on Incheon International airport.

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