SEOUL — Villagers living near a South Korean military bombing range on the country’s east coast are upset that the Ministry of National Defense might allow additional U.S. Forces Korea use of the range.

Lt. Col Kim Nak-jung, a ministry spokesman, confirmed Tuesday that his organization was studying additional U.S. flights at Pilseung Range. The range was built in 1980 for joint U.S. and South Korea training.

But Huh Shin-hak, chief of the Taebaek People Power civic association, said residents fear additional training increases threats to their safety and the environment.

Early last year, Huh said, residents learned ministry officials were considering moving U.S. training from the controversial Koon-ni Range, on the country’s west coast, to Pilseung.

Huh’s organization camped outside of Pilseung’s front gate for 40 days in protest.

On June 4, 2004, they received a letter from the Minister of National Defense that promised Koon-ni training would not be moved to Pilseung, Huh said.

The ministry spokesman wouldn’t comment on the letter Tuesday. He did say, however, that no promises had been broken because a decision had yet to be made.

Huh said local residents are distraught and feel they can no longer trust the government. Their goal now is to close Pilseung range.

Residents near Koon-ni, on the west coast, had long complained about health problems associated with the firing, strafing and bombing that have taken place on the range for more than 50 years. Pilots stopped using the range for strafing in 2000 and local residents sued South Korea in 2001. In January, a judge ordered compensation of $7.8 million to 1,900 residents of Maehyang-ni who suffered from the noise during the firing range’s five decades of operation.

U.S. Forces Korea officials will turn over management of Koon-ni Range on Aug. 31.

A scheduled U.S. Forces Korea ordnance clean-up at Koon-ni was interrupted Aug. 15 when protesters entered the range. USFK explosive ordnance disposal personnel and contract equipment operators were unable to complete the annual requirement to remove target ordnance released from aircraft.

USFK officials have said that “although management of the (Koon-ni) range will be transferred to the ROK military … the U.S. will retain authority over the range while consultations continue on final disposition.”

Dave Oten, a U.S. Forces Korea spokesman, could not comment on the report late Tuesday afternoon.

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