December 12, 2019 12:52
Korea has taken back another four military bases from the U.S. and agreed to shoulder the cleanup cost for the often heavily contaminated sites.
The two countries have also started negotiations about the process of returning the old U.S. Forces Korea headquarters in Yongsan in central Seoul to Korea. Seoul will foot an estimated W110 billion bill for their cleanup (US$1=W1,193).
At a meeting on the Status of Forces Agreement with the U.S. at the new USFK headquarters of Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, the two countries agreed to speed up a long-delayed handover plan.
The four obsolete bases are camps Eagle and Long in Wonju, Gangwon Province, Camp Market in Bupyeong, and Camp Hovey in Dongducheon, both in Gyeonggi Province.
The process of returning them to Korea kicked off in 2010 and 2011 in accordance with SOFA regulations but was delayed due to differences in opinion over what standards should be applied for their cleanup and who is responsible.
The Korean government wanted the USFK to take care of the cleanup, but the USFK claimed there was no need and U.S. troops have suffered no particular health problems. A government official said, "We agreed on the return of the bases for fear that the contamination could spread and due to persistent request from local residents as the delay has caused them economic damages and inconveniences."
Of a total of 80 U.S. military bases to be returned, 58 have now been handed over, so 22 remain.
In the case of the Yongsan garrison, the government wants to carry out an environmental assessment as early as possible. The USFK is ready to return another 13 bases as they have been vacated and closed, a spokesman said.
The decision comes as the U.S. wants Korea to shoulder an exorbitant five-fold hike in USFK upkeep costs.
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