U.S., South Korean negotiators setto wrap up talks on Yongsan return
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — U.S. and South Korean negotiators were expected to wrap up three days of talks Wednesday about returning portions of Yongsan Garrison to South Korea’s government by 2006.
It’s the first meeting of the Future of the Alliance Policy Initiative to take place on the contested post, the largest U.S. Army base in Seoul. The 600-acre compound hosts about 7,000 soldiers and four commands.
Richard Lawless, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense of Asia-Pacific affairs, and Lt. Gen. Cha Young-koo, South Korean deputy defense minister for policy, are leading the negotiations. U.S. military leaders have said the sessions with South Korea’s government are part of the Defense Department’s larger plan to more efficiently reorganize U.S. troops overseas.
At issue are the timetable for moving U.S. troops out of Seoul and how South Korea’s government will finance suitable replacement facilities. Under the U.S.-South Korean status of forces agreement, Seoul must pay if it wants U.S. forces to move.
U.S. and South Korean officials agreed in July on a plan to move U.S. forces from Seoul should be in place before U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and South Korean Defense Minister Cho Young-kil talk at the annual Security Consultative Meeting, which South Korean officials say has been delayed until November at the request of the United States.
Both sides also seek to revise 1990 agreements stating that Yongsan Garrison facilities should have moved by 1996.
U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Leon J. LaPorte said June 3 the goal is to move 6,000 of Yongsan’s 7,000 soldiers to Camp Humphreys in Pyongtaek. He said if Seoul bought land in Pyongtaek for the U.S. troops, Washington would commit money to build a base on that land.
The Combined Forces Command — U.S. and South Korean military leaders — and the U.N. Command would stay in Seoul with about 1,000 soldiers and LaPorte’s office, LaPorte said.
Saturday, South Korean Prime Minister Goh Kun chaired a meeting with government ministers about buying the land. They agreed to set up a task force to oversee the project, according to the South Korean Office for Government Policy Coordination.
Other issues have included transferring some security duties at Panmunjom to South Korean forces. U.S. soldiers comprise about 40 percent of a 550-man battalion on the border village with North Korea in the Demilitarized Zone.
No timetable has been announced but the United States and South Korea have agreed to move the 14,000-strong 2nd Infantry Division south of the Han River. Under a two-phase plan, division troops would be consolidated at camps Red Cloud and Casey in Uijongbu and Tongduchon.
Choe Song-won contributed to this report.