SEOUL, March 12 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) said Wednesday it will continue to pay its South Korean employees despite a delay in Seoul's parliamentary approval of a bilateral defense cost-sharing pact.
Seoul and Washington renewed in January their Special Measure Agreement (SMA) on sharing the cost of stationing U.S. forces here. The pact has not been approved by the South Korean parliament due to opposition lawmakers' objection over a jump in Seoul's share, sparking concerns that South Korean personnel may be forced to take unpaid leave.
The USFK said it is working with defense ministries of both nations to find a funding solution, while pledging support to ratify the pending pact.
"The readiness of our forces is crucial for the defense of the Republic of Korea, and Korean workers are a key component of sustaining force readiness," the USFK said in a release.
After months of negotiations, Seoul agreed to pay 920 billion won (US$867 million) this year for the upkeep of the U.S. troops, a 5.8 percent increase from a year earlier.
Under the bilateral agreement, the South Korean government is required to provide up to 71 percent of the labor cost for Korean employees hired by the USFK, while the U.S. government shoulders the remaining amount.
"Although the Republic of Korea government may not provide its normal contribution, we have decided to provide interim funding from U.S. sources in order to maintain operational readiness," the USFK said.
The Seoul-Washington defense treaty had initially put the burden of financing U.S. defense activities solely on the U.S. side. The allies signed their first SMA in 1991, and the deal has since been renewed intermittently.
The USFK forces are stationed in South Korea mainly as a deterrent against North Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War.
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