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SEOUL — U.S. military trucks on Aug. 22 drove onto a sand dune considered a national treasure by South Korea’s government, U.S. and South Korean officials confirmed Wednesday.

Lt. Col. Tom Budzyna, 8th Army spokesman, apologized for the incident in an e-mail sent to Stars and Stripes on Wednesday afternoon.

“Eighth Army regrets the incident involving a unit that briefly occupied a site in the Sanduri Sand Dunes,” Budzyna stated in the e-mail. “The incident, which occurred Aug. 22 between 10:30 a.m. and 4 p.m., was resolved quickly once the unit was notified that they inadvertently located in the area.”

Taean County officials said the dunes are a rare geographical feature in Korea that are home to some almost extinct plants. The area is off-limits to pedestrian and vehicle traffic.

Local guards reported that U.S. military trucks drove onto the dune and soldiers began setting up gear that day.

Budzyna said the training involved five groups totaling 26 vehicles. Korean range control officials informed the unit of the misstep in time to prevent the fourth and fifth groups from entering the site, Budzyna said.

The first, second and third groups were on site by 1:15 p.m. and had departed completely by 4 p.m.

City officials and members of Blue Taean 21, an environmental civic group, rushed to the scene but because of language differences were unable to persuade the soldiers to move their trucks and gear, county official Park Sung-jin said.

When they finally finally were able to explain the situation through a Korean Augmentee to the U.S. Army, or KATUSA, Park said, the soldiers said they couldn’t move until they received orders from higher headquarters.

“Our unit responded quickly once it was told they had moved into this area and departed immediately,” Budzyna said. “We’re thankful we were corrected quickly.”

Im Hyo-sang of Blue Taean 21 expressed fears the case will bring unwanted attention to the area and make it harder to preserve the environment.

As for any damage to the dune, Im said, “Now what we need is just time’s passing.”

Park said that after the U.S. troops left, members of the South Korean military dispatched by the Ministry of National Defense cleaned up the area.

Ministry spokesman Song Gi-hun said U.S. Forces Korea officials misread map coordinates, which placed the troops and equipment on the dune.

U.S. officials did not respond to the MND’s assertion that U.S. troops misread the maps. Other questions, which went unanswered, included which unit was conducting the training, what kind of training was planned and whether U.S. troops had trained in this area previously.

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