[EDITORIALS]Government stumbles again

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[EDITORIALS]Government stumbles again

Is Korea a third-rate country that cannot even handle incoming foreign documents properly? The country's image has been tarnished for the second time in just a few months because the government failed to carry out the most basic mission in protecting the interest of its citizens.

Several weeks ago, the Foreign Ministry embarrassed itself by saying it was never notified of the execution of a Korean citizen in China when the Chinese government had indeed sent notifications. In the most recent incident, the Defense Ministry said United States Forces Korea never notified it of a plan to build new apartments inside the Yongsan Garrison.

Colonel Samuel Taylor, the public affairs officer of the USFK, said on Monday that the U.S. military provided official notification during a briefing to the Facilities and Areas Subcommittee under the Status of Forces Agreement on May 17. He added that Colonel David Kingston, then a USFK Engineer and the U.S. chairman of the subcommittee, presented a letter explaining the construction plan as well as how the plan could be reviewed jointly with local government agencies to the Defense Ministry official representing the Korean side on the subcommittee. The USFK maintains that the notification was in accordance with the revised statutes of the SOFA, which governs the activities of U.S troops in Korea, and that it was sent so that the Korean government could review it in advance.

After news of the apartment construction plan broke and opposition from the public mounted, the Defense Ministry insisted for three days that it never received official notification. But then it admitted to receiving such notification in face of the U.S. explanation.

The Defense Ministry still maintains it thought the notification was unofficial since it requested more documents from the USFK for consultations with local government authorities. The Korean representative on the SOFA subcommittee did not even report the matter to his bosses.

Three questions arise from this mess. How could the Defense Ministry official representing Korea on the subcommittee not report the matter to his bosses? Korea and the United States agreed in 1991 to move the Yongsan Garrison out of the Seoul metropolitan area. In addition to the central government, the Seoul city government and grassroots advocacy groups persistently have called for the implementation of the agreement.

The suspicion that the Defense Ministry may be hiding the truth arises since its explanation that a director-level official buried the matter on his own is not very convincing. If, indeed, the official did not report the matter to his bosses, he should have. Countermeasures should have been drawn up as soon as the USFK notified him of the plan to construct new apartments inside the Yongsan Garrison, regardless of the circumstances.

The ministry should have considered the public opposition such a plan would bring and presented our position to the USFK.

The last suspicion is whether the Defense Ministry tacitly agreed to or ignored the apartment construction plan. Since it is expected to cost $10 billion to relocate the Yongsan Garrison out of Seoul, the Defense Ministry may have turned a blind eye to the USFK's plan to improve housing conditions inside the base on its own.

Though late, the Defense Ministry should clearly convey to the USFK that the apartment construction cannot take place and come up with alternatives with the SOFA statutes and the special nature of the U.S. troops in Korea in mind.

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