U.N. Commander LaPorte tours bases across Japan
The commander of the United Nations force in the region wrapped up a tour of rear-area U.N. bases in Japan on Wednesday, days after criticizing North Korea for refusing to discuss violations of the 1953 armistice.
“This refusal brings into question North Korea’s commitment to comply with the armistice agreement itself,” said Army Gen. Leon J. LaPorte, U.N. commander, in a written response to questions during his visit to Japan.
LaPorte cited an incident in which North Korean soldiers were photographed carrying machine guns into the transportation corridor of the Demilitarized Zone, the area separating North and South Korea. The guns later were removed from the site, which is being constructed as a rail link between the Koreas. The North refused to discuss the incident, claiming that the transportation corridor is outside the armistice’s authority.
LaPorte toured several U.S. bases on mainland Japan and Okinawa that also serve as rear-area U.N. bases. His stops included Sasebo Naval Base and Kadena Air Base. With Futenma Marine Corps Air Station on Okinawa, they are among the few U.S. bases in Japan that also fly a U.N. flag.
“The general is visiting key U.S./UNC bases that play a critical strategic role in supporting peace and stability in the Asia Pacific region,” said Lee Ferguson, USFK spokeswoman. “All of the bases in Japan are critical to fighting and winning any possible future contingency in Korea.”
Ferguson said LaPorte’s visit included meetings with local commanders and inspections of the infrastructure to gain a firsthand account of bases that would support any contingency operations on the Korean peninsula.
LaPorte declined to be interviewed by Stars and Stripes but responded to written questions. He said the role of U.S. and UNC bases in Japan is critical for South Korea’s security.
In a written statement, the general thanked U.S. armed forces servicemembers serving in Japan: “They work hard every day to maintain their readiness to react to any contingency,” he wrote. “Their presence and readiness is key to maintaining peace and stability in the region.”
Ferguson said there has been no call for forces stationed in Japan to deploy to South Korea. Still, LaPorte said North Korea’s refusal to discuss the most recent violations was troubling.
“These actions … set a dangerous precedent and [it] raises serious security concerns in the transportation corridors,” he said in his written response. “If the North Koreans continue to use this practice of refusing to acknowledge the armistice agreement’s authority in the DMZ it could undermine the armistice’s most significant visible mechanism for maintaining a separation of opposing forces — the DMZ.
“I have been asked many times if I have any security concerns over the transportation corridors and up to this point I’ve stated, ‘No,’” LaPorte added. “But if this situation continues, I believe the Korean peoples’ security could be diminished by North Korea’s continued refusal to discuss their most recent armistice violations with the UNC.”