USFK mum on alleged JSA duty transfer
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Korean newspapers widely reported Tuesday that the United States wants to transfer duties at Panmunjom to South Korean forces. Officially, both sides remain mum.
Talks about mission transfers are under way but nothing is set, said U.S. Forces Korea spokeswoman Lee Ferguson and Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Kim Ki-bom.
The reports — published in several newspapers including Korea Herald, Korea Times, Munwha Ilbo and Koomin Ilbo — are based on a June 27 meeting in Washington, D.C., between Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and South Korean Defense Minister Cho Young-kil. The two agreed to move forward with transferring some military missions from U.S. to South Korean forces, The Associated Press reported.
Discussions have included a larger role for South Korea in countering North Korean special operations troops, believed to be one of the largest such units in the world, the news service reported.
Panmunjom is one of the few places where U.S. soldiers patrol in the Demilitarized Zone; half of it belongs to North Korea.
The area is patrolled daily by soldiers from North Korea, South Korea and the United States.
The Joint Security Area — which lies within Panmunjom — is guarded by U.S. and South Korean troops under the U.N.’s Joint Security Battalion. U.S. soldiers comprise about 40 percent of the 550-man unit; the rest are South Korean soldiers.
The U.S. military stopped routine patrols in the DMZ in the early 1990s, letting their South Korean allies take over duties. There are only 30 to 40 American soldiers in the DMZ at any one time, though American units are poised just outside the zone.
The largest Korean daily newspaper — Chosun Ilbo — cited unnamed USFK officials as saying the Joint Security Area will be transferred to the South Korean Army within three years instead of four or five.
Under the Future of the Alliance Policy Initiative, U.S. and South Korean planners are devising how U.S. forces can be realigned while reducing the amount of South Korean land U.S. forces occupy. For years, Yongsan Garrison, which sprawls over 630 acres in central Seoul, has been a focus of South Korean complaints.
Gen. Leon J. LaPorte, USFK commander, said previously that 6,000 of the 7,000 soldiers at Yongsan Garrison should move to Camp Humphreys in Pyongtaek. U.S. officials have said they are willing to move if South Korea provides adequate replacement facilities. Under the status of forces agreement between the two countries, if South Korea wants U.S. forces to move, it must pay for the relocation.
Last month, the United States and South Korea agreed to consolidate 2nd Infantry Division posts and eventually move them south of Han River. However, lawmakers in South Korea’s National Assembly say they oppose moving the division until the North Korean nuclear conflict is settled.
— Choe Song-won contributed to this report.