SEOUL — A new tourism police unit will begin patrolling areas of Seoul that are popular with foreigners on Wednesday, including the Itaewon entertainment district adjacent to U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan.

The new unit is meant to deter common crimes against foreigners, such as overcharging by merchants and taxi drivers, and help tourists who believe they have been victimized, according to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, which launched the initiative.

“We’re not trying to monitor tourists,” said An Sinyoung, director of the ministry’s tourism promotion team. “We’re just trying to provide more service and more convenience for them.”

The unit is also meant to help improve South Korea’s image and prevent visitors from returning to their home countries with stories about being mistreated in Seoul, he said.

The 101-member unit, which will wear special uniforms, will also patrol Myeongdong, Dongdaemun, Insadong, Hongdae, and areas around Cheonggyechon stream and Seoul City Hall.

Police were recruited from the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency based on their ability to speak English, Chinese or Japanese, and will work in pairs that include one career police officer and one conscript completing his mandatory period of military service.

The career police officers have the same capabilities as regular police, such as the right to detain and arrest suspects.

An said there have been few reports of tourist misbehavior, but a growing percentage of foreign visitors say they encounter instances of “inconvenience,” such as refusing to provide refunds for deficient products, while in Seoul.

The ministry may eventually station tourism police on Jeju Island, Busan and Incheon, he said.

Foreigners can call 1330 for tourism information provided by police.

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Yoo Kyong Chang is a reporter/translator covering the U.S. military from Camp Humphreys, South Korea. She graduated from Korea University and also studied at the University of Akron in Ohio.

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