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YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — U.S. Forces Korea relaxed its peninsula-wide curfew Friday, pushing to midnight the time all soldiers, family members and civilians should be off the streets, officials said.

Effective Sept. 24, the command instituted a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, based in part on terrorism fears associated with South Korea’s deployment of troops to Iraq.

While the curfew hours were pushed back Friday, all USFK personnel were asked to remain vigilant and be aware of their surroundings, USFK spokesman Kevin Krejcarek said. Increased force protection measures at bases throughout South Korea would remain in effect, officials said.

Earlier Friday, the top U.S. enlisted leader defended the tighter curfew hours.

“It will lighten up. But until we get good intelligence, this is going on. It’s there for your safety and for your protection,” said U.S. Forces Korea Command Sgt. Maj. Troy Welch during his monthly “From the Top” radio call-in program.

The program aired before the announcement of the midnight curfew.

Welch began the program by summing up the decision to implement the new measures: “We’re at war. And it’s a war on terrorism.”

“As long as it’s that way, we as a command have to look at [the situation] and make the decisions,” Welch said.

Welch cited terror warnings from the U.S. Embassy in Seoul as the command’s justification for the curfew, also putting to rest speculation the curfew was influenced by the South Korean government’s recent crackdown on prostitution.

Several callers took issue with the earlier curfew. Previously, soldiers had a 1 a.m. weekend and holiday curfew and a midnight weekday curfew.

“We can hash this thing out until the cows come home,” Welch said after one call, “but these are different times since 9/11.”

Welch was joined on the program by Marine Sgt. Maj. William Kinney, U.S. Pacific Command’s senior enlisted leader. Kinney observed the program and listened to the callers, and made brief comments at the end of the hour supporting the curfew.

Servicemembers and civilians in other parts of the region — in the Philippines, for instance — are living under even harsher rules, he said. In some locations there is a “no liberty” policy, he said.

Kinney is in South Korea with his boss, PACOM commander Adm. Thomas Fargo, who is meeting with senior U.S. and South Korean officials.

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