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Bar owners in Itaewon, shown here, along with other entertainment areas near U.S. bases in South Korea say a 1 a.m. curfew for servicemembers is hurting their business.

Bar owners in Itaewon, shown here, along with other entertainment areas near U.S. bases in South Korea say a 1 a.m. curfew for servicemembers is hurting their business. (Alfredo Jimenez/Stars and Stripes)

SEOUL - Nearly four months after the high-profile rape of a South Korean teenager by a U.S. soldier, local business owners say an off-installation curfew in effect since then and recently tightened is hurting their bottom line.

"The 1 a.m. curfew is killing Itaewon," the bar district outside U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan, said Kim Sam-sook, owner of the Grand Ole Opry bar.

"Soldiers are too nervous to drink, because the MPs have been chasing them and pushing them to leave," she said. "(U.S. Forces Korea) should have told us in advance that they were going to do this."

Earlier this month, USFK commander Gen. James Thurman indefinitely imposed a 1 a.m. nightly curfew, which he said he plans to review quarterly. Thurman initially set a curfew in October that began at 3 a.m. on weekends and holidays and midnight on weekdays, following public outcry over the Sept. 24 rape of a teenager in her boarding house. Pvt. Kevin Lee Flippin was convicted of the crime and sentenced to 10 years in prison. A South Korea appeals court Thursday rejected his plea for a reduced sentence.

Several bar owners said they want to see the weekend curfew reset to 3 a.m.

"The curfew doesn't hurt us on weekdays," said Cho Yongseok, owner of Xanadu bar in Dongducheon. "But on Fridays and Saturdays, that's the problem." He said the number of military customers has dropped by two-thirds since the 1 a.m. curfew was enforced.

Cho said troops leave his bar by 12:30 a.m., if not earlier, so they can return to base without breaking the curfew. He said he thinks some choose not to leave their installations at all because they feel it's not worth it to go out for only a few hours.

Others said the new curfew is pushing servicemembers to go far from the bases, to areas where military police do not conduct patrols, such as ritzy Gangnam and the popular university area of Hongdae in Seoul.

Individual garrisons and units are managing enforcement of the new curfew, USFK said. Yongsan spokesman Mark Abueg said there had been no reports of problems with the new curfew, and there were no plans to extend the military police town patrol beyond Itaewon, into other areas of Seoul.

For some troops, the curfew is an unwelcome throwback to an unpopular nine-year curfew that was rescinded in July 2010. Servicemembers often complained that the old curfew discouraged them from leaving their installations and had the unintended effect of causing binge drinking - complaints echoed by some about today's curfew.

"It's going to get more people in trouble," said Pvt. Ethan Celis. "The earlier they set the curfew, people are going to be drinking faster and faster."

Celis, a crew chief, is stationed at K-16 Air Base on the outskirts of Seoul, where he said there is little to do off-post. Going into Seoul at night and trying to return to K-16 by 1 a.m. could mean spending significant money on taxi fares, he said - a factor likely to deter troops from leaving their installations.

"It's like, well, I can't stay out, so I might as well not go out," he said.

rowlanda@pstripes.osd.mil

chang.yookyong@pstripes.osd.mil


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