U.S. military’s live fire complex faces criticism

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U.S. military’s live fire complex faces criticism

The contentious Rodriguez Live Fire Complex in Pocheon, Gyeonggi, a tactical training area for the American army near the border with North Korea, was brought up in a recent high-level military conference between Seoul and Washington as nearby residents have complained of noise and safety concerns.

U.S. military officers worry that the complex, a 3,390-acre training zone managed by the 8th U.S. Army, could become the next “hot potato” after the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile shield in Seongju County, North Gyeongsang, a senior South Korean government official told JoongAng Ilbo Sunday on the condition of anonymity.

The field, which is the U.S. military’s largest shooting complex in Asia, was among the main agenda items discussed at the annual Military Committee Meeting between Jeong Kyeong-doo, chairman of the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his U.S. counterpart, Joseph Dunford, last Friday.

On Saturday, National Defense Minister Song Young-moo and U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis signed a joint communique following the 49th Security Consultative Meeting, which partially read, “The Secretary offered his appreciation for the ROK’s contributions in providing a stable stationing environment for USFK and for the ROK’s comprehensive and equitable security burden-sharing efforts.”

That clause, said the South Korean government source, was “a nod from Washington of Seoul’s overall efforts on the Rodriguez training area.”

Pocheon residents have been critical of the complex since its establishment in 1954.

Bareun Party Rep. Kim Young-woo, who represents Pocheon and heads the legislative National Defense Committee, said the most frequent complaint he receives from locals is about noise, especially from night-time firing exercises.

But the most serious problem yet, Kim stressed, is stray bullets, which sometimes affect houses and office buildings neighboring the complex.

In October 2015, a 105-millimeter (4.13-inch) anti-tank missile flew outside the shooting range and ricocheted off a house, landing on a farm.

Villagers have protested the training field for years, leading the U.S. military to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Pocheon city government, in which the military promised to alert Pocheon residents of their training schedule in advance.

Wary of growing public resentment, the Defense Ministry commissioned the University of Seoul last January to study damage near the shooting range and find ways to manage the conflict. The research is slated to end this week.

BY LEE CHUL-JAE, PARK YONG-HAN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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