SOFA gets rid of 24-hour policy

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SOFA gets rid of 24-hour policy

Korea and the U.S. agreed yesterday to give more authority to Seoul to investigate crimes involving U.S. military personnel.

The previous Status of Forces Agreement, which governs the legal status of U.S. troops in Korea, stipulated the U.S. would “favorably consider” handing over a suspect to the Korean side before he or she is charged.

This, however, had hardly ever happened due to the 24-hour rule. The rule stated Seoul had one day to make an indictment after the suspect was handed over. The new agreement got rid of the rule, making it easier for Korea to secure the custody of a U.S. military personnel suspect, according to the officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which reached the agreement with the U.S. Forces Korea.

The crimes subject to “favorable consideration” of the early handover under the existing agreement are not only 12 serious crimes including murder and rape but also general crimes, Seoul officials said.

In the agreement between Japan and the U.S. Forces Japan, it is only limited to murder and rape, they said.

The new agreement also made it easier for Korea to investigate a U.S. suspect caught by the Korean authorities first.

The previous agreement allowed Seoul to conduct a rudimentary investigation into the suspect, but only in the presence of a U.S. government representative when it was a crime other than murder and rape. In the past, a U.S. representative might delay visiting the police, then eventually come and take the suspect out of custody after the 24-hour period had expired, Seoul officials said.

“In the new agreement, the U.S. agreed on more cooperation on such investigation and giving ‘reasonable time’ to Korea to make an indictment,” said an official of the ministry.

There are around 28,000 U.S. troops in Korea.

By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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