[FOUNTAIN]SOFA needs substantial revision

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[FOUNTAIN]SOFA needs substantial revision

Following the successful conclusion of five years of negotiations over the Status of Forces Agreement between U.S. and Korea, the director-general of the Foreign Ministry's North American Affairs Bureau, Song Min-soon, in 2000 was able to say, "The SOFA had been an uncomfortable chair to sit on. But we will be able to sit on it for a longer period from now on."

Negotiations were settled at a level where two countries are satisfied, said Mr. Song. "Under the agreement, Korean authorities have the right to take custody of U.S. criminal suspects charged with an egregious crime at the time of indictment," he said.

Since that last revision, however, the SOFA has failed to live up to people's expectations. Protesters are currently demanding the pact's revision, and have done so whenever there have been controversial incidents.

The Status of Forces Agreement is a pact guaranteeing benefits to U.S. soldiers posted abroad within specific legal boundaries. The United States has SOFA pacts with 90 countries in Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

Generally, when two countries enter the agreement, it's the country with less power that requests the pact be signed. This is to provide legal measures to manage and prevent crimes by foreign soldiers in their country. The agreement between Korea and the U.S. was signed in 1967 under fierce pressure by the Korean government. Before the pact was signed, there was no way to punish U.S. soldiers who committed such crimes as murder or rape in Korea. Some clauses in the U.S.-Korea SOFA agreement which were considered unfavorable to Korean victims were later removed in the 1991 and in 2000 revisions.

But the SOFA is on the verge of a worldwide crisis. Groups in host countries are calling for an anti-SOFA movement, reflecting the sentiment that special privileges shouldn't be granted for foreign troops. Okinawa, Japan, is the home of the movement. Here in Korea, the call for SOFA revisions is again gaining momentum following last week's not-guilty verdict for the drivers of the vehicle that killed two local girls.

The U.S. ambassador in Korea, Thomas Hubbard, said that there is no reason to revise the U.S.-Korea SOFA because the agreement is consistent worldwide. We can assume from his words that it would be difficult to revise the agreement even if such negotiations began in Korea. Regardless, we need to build a new SOFA that fits the bodies of the two nations in order to maintain a peaceful relationship.

The writer is a deputy social news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Gyu-yun

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