Training range to be turned over to South Koreans
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — The U.S. military will transfer jurisdiction of a controversial training range to South Korea by August 2005, a Defense Ministry official said Monday.
U.S. fighter planes have used Koon-ni Range, on the west coast, for ordnance training since the 1950s. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, confirmed South Korean news reports that U.S. and South Korean officials sealed the deal in November and reached an implementation plan in February.
U.S. Forces Korea referred questions to the South Korean Defense Ministry.
The ministry official said it is possible the range could be closed after jurisdiction is transferred but no decision has been made.
The range is near Maehyang-ni, a collection of five small villages. For years, residents claimed damage to homes from roaring jets, strafing practice and live ordnance. Strafing practice was halted in August 2000.
But fighters continued to use an uninhabited island near the shoreline for practice. The rocky isle, accessible by foot when tides are low, is covered with ordnance detritus and rusting vehicle hulls.
Fourteen residents won a class-action claim against the South Korean government because of noise from the range. Last month, that country’s Supreme Court upheld a 2001 decision awarding each about $10,000.
Another 2,222 residents near the range claimed similar damages in a 2001 lawsuit, but the case is pending. The Defense Ministry official said the agreement to change the range’s jurisdiction was unrelated to the compensation claims.
Koon-ni came under intense scrutiny in 2001 after an Air Force A-10 pilot dropped six live bombs on the target island about a mile from the residences, after his plane developed engine trouble. No one was injured and both U.S. and South Korean authorities found no damage.
But protesters frequently staged rallies at the range, calling for its closure.