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SEOUL — U.S. Forces Korea is waiting for the Korean National Assembly to pass its 2005 annual budget, one of the next key steps toward moving U.S. military bases toward the central part of the peninsula, Korean and U.S. officials said this week.

The Assembly is meeting in an end-of-the-year special session to debate its annual budget, Korean troop deployment in Iraq, a controversial security law and other issues.

During the final days of its regular session this month, the Assembly passed legislation that endorsed the U.S. military’s overall move. That approval set in motion both governments’ plans to scale back U.S. forces by 12,500 troops and turn over to the Koreans about two-thirds of the land the Americans currently occupy.

The 2005 budget would put some of those initial plans in motion, said Col. Dan Wilson, an engineer with USFK who is working with the Koreans to plan the move.

“The budget contains the funding that the government will need to buy the land, compensate the landowners and to initiate the master planning efforts that we need to start,” he said in a phone interview Thursday.

“Next year is a crucial year,” Wilson said. “It’s gone from, ‘Let’s make a deal’ to ‘Let’s make it work.’”

Wilson and his Korean counterpart, Kim Dong-ghi in Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan’s office, said they hope the Assembly will move on the budget before year’s end. Legislators met Thursday to negotiate but left with little resolved, Korean media reported.

The U.S. relocation project is an estimated $3.4 billion plan that would put most U.S. military strength near Osan and Pyongtaek over the next few years.

Kim said about $500 million of that money is included in the 2005 budget to help relocate hundreds of farming families to make way for the larger military sites.

Many of the families do not want to move, Kim acknowledged during an interview Thursday. He has been working for months with the families, local officials and national legislators to ease the farmers’ concerns and create incentives for them.

“I am the son of a farmer,” Kim said. Farmers love “their home and farmland. That’s their basis for living. Against their will, we have to move them for security and the relationship between the Republic of Korea and the U.S.”

The pending budget legislation does include some incentives for the families, he said, including paid moving costs, job training and opportunities and new farmland in another part of the country.

Negotiations with the families are to continue over the next few months, Kim said.

For USFK officials, the 2005 Korean budget also includes money for planning the Yongsan Garrison move, Wilson said.

To date, plans to move smaller U.S. bases southward appear well laid out. At Humphreys, for example, some of the new construction already has begun.

But plans for moving Yongsan and the 13 other U.S.-occupied sites in Seoul still are in preliminary stages. Wilson said U.S. officials hope to hire a consulting firm early next year to begin finalizing those plans.

Hwang Hae-rym contributed to this report.


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