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SEOUL — South Korea’s government finally has agreed to accept 15 closed U.S. military sites despite earlier pollution concerns, officials said Saturday.

A South Korean statement Saturday confirmed South Korea will accept U.S. camps Howze, Stanton, Giant, Greaves, LaGuardia, Nimble, McNab, Colburn, Bonifas, Freedom Bridge, the U.S.-controlled United Nations Compound, CPX-AI firing range, Charlie Block, Koon-Ni Range and the U.S. military office at Seoul Station.

“Although negotiations fell short of the expectations of our government, we believe we have done our best to draw out the best outcome, based on seeing other overseas examples,” a joint statement South Korea’s ministries of defense, environment and foreign affairs issued Saturday said.

Continued “U.S. military presence in Korea would contribute to our security and economic developments,” it said.

The South Korean announcement followed by less than a day U.S. Forces Korea’s posting on its Web site of a long position statement about the bases.

It flatly asserted that USFK expects to return 59 camps totaling 33,000 acres valued at more than $1 billion to South Korea’s government within four years.

The USFK statement came after 18 months of disagreements about which nation should pay for pollution removal on the bases. Saturday’s South Korean statement said its studies found at least 26 were polluted beyond its environmental standards.

With South Korea now agreeing to accept 15 of those sites, it said Saturday, negotiations will continue over the remaining 11.

“We’re very pleased the camp returns are continuing, and look forward to working together with our Korean counterparts to continue this effort,” USFK spokesman Col. Franklin Childress said Saturday.

The status of forces agreement allows USFK to return the sites without environmental treatment of pollutants beyond those posing “known, imminent, and substantial endangerments to human health.” In return, South Korea receives the sites and infrastructure, which USFK estimates as worth billions of dollars, at no cost.

USFK’s Friday Internet posting cited SOFA in stating that the United States is “not obliged … to restore the facilities and areas to the condition they were at the time they became available to the U.S. armed forces, or to compensate the government of the ROK in lieu of such restoration.”

USFK says it’s going beyond its SOFA requirements by removing underground fuel tanks at all returned bases and heavy metals from firing ranges. USFK also is contracting with a South Korean company to remove fuel contamination of ground water at five closed camps.

But some South Korean lawmakers and interest groups have said cleanup efforts aren’t enough.

Green Korea and the Chuncheon Civic Group sued in June for access to the Ministry of Environment’s environmental surveys of the bases. According to data leaked but not confirmed by the ministry or USFK, soil levels of lead and several petroleum byproducts are dramatically higher than South Korean standards.

Earlier this week, a Dongducheon city official told Stars and Stripes that USFK was terminating its agreements with security contractor Group 4 Falck at the 15 U.S. bases. However, neither USFK nor South Korea would confirm the reports at the time, citing an agreement on joint release of information regarding the bases.

Hwang Hae-rym contributed to this report.

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