US Military Facilities: Korea
In 1981 the United States and the Republic of Korea signed an memorandum of understanding, the purpose of which was to provide instructions and guidance necessary to establish support requirements for pre-positioning USAF-owned combat communications assets at the following ROK Air Bases: Cheong Ju, Sachon, Suwon and Yechon. The ROKN would allow the use of Pohang Air Station. The pre-positioning of said assets would enhance the capability of the USAF to support its mission in the defense of the Republic of Korea. Under the agreement the USAF retained the right to withdraw any or all of the assets from Korea to support USAF objectives elsewhere at any time and without prior coordination or consultation with ROKAF or ROKN.
Throughout the postwar period, tensions continued between the Korean governments, although the late 1980s and early 1990s saw some efforts to promote North-South dialogue and better relations. The United States believed that the question of peace and security on the Korean Peninsula was, first and foremost, a matter for the Korean people themselves to decide. The United States was prepared to assist in this process if the two sides desired.
Several aspects of the security relationship were changing as the United States moved from a leading to a supporting role in the defense of the Republic of Korea. South Korea had agreed to pay a larger portion of USFK's stationing costs and to promote changes in the CFC command structure. On 1 December 1994, peacetime operational control authority over all South Korean military units, then still under US operational control, was transferred to the ROK Armed Forces.
In April 1996, President Clinton and ROK President Kim Young Sam announced a proposal for 4 party talks (the US, ROK, DPRK, and China) with the goal of establishing a permanent peace mechanism to replace the 1953 Military Armistice Agreement. The opening plenary session of the talks was held in December 1997 in Geneva.
US Forces in Korea were scattered across some 41 troop installations, and an additional 54 small camps and support sites by the end of the 1990s. The living and working conditions on these camps were said to be the worst in DoD, and the investment required to bring them all up to standard would be enormous. Rapid growth and urbanization in Korea over the previous several decades had also created an even greater demand for available land and increased encroachments and pressures on areas used by US forces. Many of the smaller US camps and training areas originally in isolated locations were subsequently in the center of large urban areas. This causes friction with local residents and often limited the ability to train effectively.
A complex trend of events after mid-1999 generated public attention on US forces in Korea and its role in the ROK. With the June 2000 historic presidential summit between South and North Korea and significant warming of relations between both nations since then, many South Koreans were inclined to see North Korea as less of a major threat. Other strains between the US and the ROK included: the fall-1999 revelation of potential American soldier participation in Korean War massacres (e.g. No Gun Ri); environmental impact issues (e.g., July 2000 Yongsan illegal formaldehyde disposal issue); Korean encroachment onto US training lands and resulting dangers (e.g., Koon-ni range); the "Fiftieth Anniversary of the Outbreak of the Korean War," which served as an occasion for the release of long pent-up criticism about the US government's historic role on the Korean peninsula; and the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the US and ROK government, which protected the rights of individual soldiers and USFK. The SOFA had evolved over the years from an irritant into what top ROK government officials conceded was a major public issue.
The US-ROK Status of Forces Agreement was an international agreement designed to serve the mutual interests of the US and the Republic of Korea to regulate all matters related to the presence of US armed forces involved in defending the ROK from external aggression. It protected the basic human rights of US citizens subject to its provisions. The SOFA defined the legal rights and obligations of Servicemembers while serving in Korea and provided facilities and land for military use. The Agreement also ensured a supportive environment for the US military forces, essential to ensuring a basic quality of life. In effect, the SOFA covered everything concerning USFK military and civilian personnel and their dependents, from their entry into, until their exit from the ROK.
The SOFA sets forth each nation's responsibilities with respect to many subjects, including facilities and areas used by US forces, entry and exit of US personnel, customs, taxation, criminal jurisdiction, claims procedures, health and sanitation, use of utilities and USFK's employment of Korean citizens.
The SOFA applied to members of the US armed forces, civilian employees, invited contractors, technical representatives and their dependents. Civilian and military personnel of the US Embassy and the Joint United States Military Advisory Group Korea (JUSMAG-K) enjoyed privileges under the SOFA, but were covered by separate agreements with the ROK government.
SOFA-status personnel were obliged to respect the laws of the ROK and abstain from any activity inconsistent with the spirit of the agreement and, in particular, from any political activity. In some cases the SOFA supersedes or abridges Korean law. For example, active-duty military personnel were exempt from passport and visa requirements and SOFA-status personnel were exempt from Korean taxes on wages and salaries paid by the US government.
For SOFA-status personnel entering Korea on a passport, the Korean visa should be category "A-3" and authorize "multiple entry." Passport holders would also have to have "SOFA Verification" stamped next to the visa. Application for "A-3" and multiple-entry visa classification and SOFA verification were made free-of charge on request at any ROK Immigration Office. The local Army Community Service (ACS), Military or Civilian Personnel Office (CPO) could be contacted for information and necessary paperwork.
The SOFA also fully acknowledged the ROK government's right to exercise criminal jurisdiction over USFK personnel accused of violating Korean laws. Accused military personnel would remain in US custody until all judicial proceedings were completed, including appeals. Civilians could be placed into ROK custody if the charges were serious and their presence for trial could not be guaranteed.
SOFA-status personnel were encouraged to carry a "SOFA Card" at all times. The card (designated USFK FL 1EK) included instructions in case the holder were to be involved with Korean law enforcement officials and was in need of assistance. A statement of SOFA status and emergency telephone numbers were written in Korean and English. SOFA cards were available through unit orderly rooms and civilian personnel offices.
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