Gov't Must Intervene in U.S. Army-Local Authority ConflictsIt appears that the conflicts between local Korean authorities and U.S. forces stationed in Korea are on the rise. While the Yongsan district office in Seoul is reluctant to allow the construction of a hotel on the U.S. base, which the army has long been asking for, the Namgu district office in Taegu permitted residents to build new facilities in the flight restriction area (FRA) around the army base. In the Yongsan case, the question is whether the construction is legal in terms of the nation's construction laws. In the Taegu case, the local government has agreed to retract laws preventing local residents from building around the FRA. As a 1960 U.S. declaration forebade unapproved construction in the FRA, an angry reaction is expected.
These kind of conflicts are inevitable, as each party concerned naturally pursues its own interests. However, the conflicts should not lead to questions about the withdrawal of the army.
To solve the problems in a calm and reasonable manner, the participation of central government is essential. However, the behavior the central government has displayed in these matters is regrettable. The government, and in particular the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, has tried to cover up the problems, rather than finding the solutions.
All the problems root from the Korea-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which is considered a lopsided agreement biased in favor of the United States. The central government must, first and foremost, identify the problems inherent in SOFA which are now causing the current conflicts. Seoul should then present these problems to the Korea-U.S. negotiation table, in the talks on the revision of SOFA scheduled for the end of the month.
On the other hand, Washington needs to understand that an equal agreement will guarantee mutual interests in the long run. Under the current agreement, local governments are unable to request important information and data such as car registration records from the U.S. forces.
The central government of Japan once succeeded in generating an agreement between the Okinawa district office and the U.S. forces there by taking the initiative. The Korean government should learn the lesson that timely and considered intervention is very helpful. This will also help the government glean the practical information necessary for a thorough and effective revision of SOFA.
by Jung Kyung-min