SEOUL — U.S. and South Korean officials agreed Friday to give local off-base authorities the power to administer jurisdiction over privately owned vehicles in the American military community.

The agreement was made during a meeting of a special joint task force formed to improve the implementation of the Status of Forces Agreement between the nations.

South Korea has had jurisdiction since 1966 under Article 24 of the U.S.-ROK Status of Forces Agreement, according to a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade statement, but USFK officials administered the rules.

The agreement includes tens of thousands of unpaid traffic violations worth nearly $500,000, which have accumulated since 2000.

USFK officials said U.S. soldiers are required to pay traffic violation fines, but the problem has been that violation notices were often received months after troops had left the peninsula and often came without an English translation or clear instructions on how to contest or pay the fine.

“This phenomenon can be seen to be trivial, but it gives Korean public a significantly wrong impression that USFK personnel are immune from local authority’s jurisdiction,” the ministry stated.

A ministry spokesman said U.S. forces officials requested at last week’s meeting that the unpaid fines for servicemembers no longer stationed in South Korea be scrapped.

The spokesman said that was impossible, but that if the fines go unpaid for five years, they are wiped off the books.

Beginning Aug. 1, the ministry said U.S. Forces Korea personnel must register their vehicles with local government offices and “the vehicles of the U.S. military personnel will be treated in the same way as those owned by Korean nationals.”

The most noticeable difference will likely be license plates. Currently, privately owned vehicles use license plates with a numeral instead of a Korean character preceding the four-digit plate number.

According to USFK, current plates will be phased out in the reregistration process during the next two years, with a final deadline of Dec. 31, 2004.

The new plates “will likely look identical to ROK plates other than minor modifications as necessary to affix plates to an American vehicle,” according to USFK, but the Ministry of Construction and Transportation hasn’t finalized the new plate guidelines.

Other changes include:

Traffic violation notices will be printed in both Korean and English and provided within 40 days of the alleged violation.South Korean registration officers will travel to large military bases, such as Yongsan Garrison, regularly to assist in registering vehicles.South Korean officials will send a list of unpaid fines to U.S. Forces Korea each month, and within 72 hours, military police will ban those vehicles from going off base or being sold until the fines are paid.USFK personnel who commit traffic offenses punishable by license suspension under local regulations will lose their USFK licenses for periods stipulated by South Korean law.USFK will conduct random checks to ensure drivers maintain current liability insurance.Ministry officials said they are happy with the changes and expect “that our law enforcement will become much more effective.”

“ROK particularly appreciates U.S. initiative to render its support for the effective enforcement of relevant ROK laws,” the ministry release stated.

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