South Korean officials turned away from Camp Colbern
September 11, 2006
SEOUL — Four South Korean congressmen from the ruling Uri party were denied access to a former U.S. military base on Friday morning, officials have confirmed.
Congressman Woo Won-sick, of the Korea National Assembly’s Environment and Labor Committee, told Stars and Stripes he and three other congressmen attempted to inspect Camp Colbern for environmental contamination on Friday morning.
U.S. Forces Korea closed the camp in late 2005 and South Korea agreed to accept the return in mid-July.
Woo said he doesn’t believe the camp has been cleaned to appropriate environmental standards and that it’s his duty to report the truth to the South Korean people.
He said the South Korean Ministry of National Defense refusal to let them enter the camp shows the ministry is trying to “conceal the truth” about the “poor cleanup work.”
A ministry spokesman said Friday that the congressmen’s visit was for political purposes.
“The congressmen may have their own answer that sounds correct to them,” the spokesman said, speaking only on condition of anonymity. “However, what the congressmen claimed today is far from the truth.”
The environmental cleanup and return of former U.S. military installations has been a contentious issue in the past 18 months.
The United States was spending more than $400,000 a month to guard closed camps because South Korea refused to accept them while negotiating over what environmental standards they should meet.
Under the status of forces agreement, USFK is allowed to return the sites without environmental treatment of pollutants beyond those posing “known, imminent, and substantial endangerments to human health,” military officials have said. South Korea receives the sites and their buildings and other infrastructure, which USFK estimates are worth billions of dollars, at no cost.
USFK officials have said they’ve exceeded the requirements by agreeing to remove underground fuel tanks, heavy metals from firing ranges and fuel contamination of ground water at five closed installations.
In July, South Korea finally accepted 15 of the closed camps, including Colbern.
USFK has said it intends to return 59 camps totaling 33,000 acres and valued at more than $1 billion to South Korea in the next four years as the U.S. military moves its troops onto consolidated hubs.
USFK officials said Friday that they couldn’t comment on the congressmen’s visit to the former camp.