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S. Korea, U.S. divided over joint command's relocation

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(GlobalPost/GlobalPost)

SEOUL, July 14 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States remain divided over whether to move their joint forces command from Seoul to south of the capital in accordance with a base relocation plan, military sources here said Monday.

The allies agreed in 2004 to relocate the Yongsan Garrison, the sprawling U.S. military headquarters in central Seoul, and the 2nd Infantry Division north of Seoul to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, some 70 kilometers south of the capital, by the end of 2016.

"The U.S. has recently proposed that the South Korean-U.S. Combined Forces Command (CFC) be exempted from the relocation plan for the U.S. bases," a military source said, asking not to be identified.

"But South Korea sticks to the position that the relocation plan should be pushed as scheduled, and the CFC headquarters are no exception."

The CFC has wartime operational control over more than 600,000 South Korean troops and U.S. troops stationed here. The headquarters, established in 1978, are located in Yongsan.

"The U.S. has said the CFC should remain in the capital city, which would boost the effectiveness of the bilateral coordination in emergency situations on the Korean Peninsula," a defense ministry official said on customary condition of anonymity.

"But we are concerned that the CFC staying in Seoul would lessen the significance of the relocation project. After all, an exception for the CFC will mean that the supreme command of the USFK as well as most staff from the U.S. continue to stay here," he added.

The CFC was to be disbanded upon South Korea's retaking of wartime command from the U.S. in December 2015, but a bilateral agreement to delay the transfer has led the CFC to remain intact.

Discussions are under way to decide the timeframe and conditions of the transfer, with the two sides vowing to decide on the specifics by October this year. Many expect the transfer to be scheduled for between 2020 and 2022.

During a regular briefing on Monday, defense ministry spokesperson Kim Min-seok also said that the sides have yet to decide on how to deal with the joint command headquarters' relocation to Pyeongtaek, indicating that discussions are under way to iron out the differences.

After the move, the central and municipal governments here plan to turn the land into a public park, while preserving some 80 buildings out of more than 1,100 inside the garrison as historical structures.

Declining to comment directly on the relocation, the CFC said "the posture of U.S. Forces in Korea will be determined through the standard consultative procedures established in our Alliance agreements."

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