U.S. returns land in Yongsan and other bases to Korea
Korea and the United States agreed on the U.S. military's return of an additional 165,000 square meters (40.8 acres) of land at the Yongsan base in central Seoul on Friday, a step toward speeding along the country's plans to build a national park there.
The United States, along with the transfer of two main posts and the south post at the Yongsan Garrison that day returned two other parcels of land at Camp Red Cloud and Camp Stanley in Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi, amounting to a total of 996,000 square meters.
The 830,000-square-meter handover at Camp Red Cloud comes as the city of Uijeongbu plans to build an e-commerce logistics complex there.
A 1,000-square-meter water detention basin of Camp Stanley was also returned to help river maintenance and flood control efforts in Buyongcheon, Uijeongbu.
The representatives of the Korea-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) joint committee reached the agreement over a telephone conference Friday, according to Seoul's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Lim Sang-woo, director-general for North American affairs at Korea's Foreign Ministry, and Lt. Gen. Scott L. Pleus, deputy chief of the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), agreed that further delays in the return of the bases could exacerbate the economic and social difficulties faced by local communities.
The two sides also agreed to continue discussions on responsible solutions to pollution problems, environmental management and the possibility of a revision of documents related to the SOFA, the Foreign Ministry said.
The bilateral SOFA, signed in 1966, governs the legal status of U.S. military personnel stationed in Korea.
The two countries also agreed to continue discussions on conducting a joint environmental survey and environmental management regulations.
The latest return of land at the Yongsan Garrison is expected to bring "momentum" to the construction of Korea's first national park in Yongsan, the Foreign Ministry said.
The Korean government plans to build the 2.43-million-square-meter Yongsan park by 2027 on the returned land.
The Yongsan base covers an area of about 1.96 million square meters and is one of 12 bases that the U.S. military has yet to return to Korea.
Korea and the United States agreed in May 2003 to relocate 80 U.S. army bases across the country to Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi, and Daegu. As part of the agreement, the USFK and United Nations Command moved their headquarters to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek in 2018.
The United States returned 53,000 square meters at the Yongsan Garrison in December 2020.
So far, around 218,000 square meters of the Yongsan Garrison has been returned, or just over 10 percent of the base's total area.
Seoul and Washington in July last year also announced they had agreed to return 500,000 square meters of land at the Yongsan Garrison, or a fourth of the total area, by early this year.
However, the Combined Forces Command, a key military facility, remains at Yongsan Garrison, with efforts to move the command to Pyeongtaek within the first half of this year.
BY SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]