By Jung Sung-ki
South Korea and the United States have agreed to complete the relocation of the U.S. military headquarters in Yongsan, Seoul, to an expanded military base in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, by 2014, defense ministry officials said Monday.
The two sides, however, remain split over the timeline for moving the bases of the 2nd Infantry Division (ID) scattered around the north of Seoul, they said.
South Korea wants to complete the 2nd ID relocation by the time the relocation of Yongsan Army Garrison is finalized, while the United States has targeted 2016, both citing pressure in costs, they said.
According to U.S. military sources, however, a final timetable has yet to be fixed, with Gen. Walter Sharp, commander of the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), still preferring a relocation by 2012 on schedule.
The USFK has reportedly complained about budget shortfalls for relocating the frontline units, since expansion of Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek is estimated to cost about $600 million annually, twice the budget it could procure.
Seoul authorities, on the other hand, believe the estimated budget scale is affordable for the USFK as a recent defense cost-sharing agreement allows the U.S. military to use host-nation funds in relocating the 2nd ID units south of the Han River, a move opposed by previous liberal governments.
``South Korean and U.S. military authorities are in final negotiations over the timelines for relocating U.S. military facilities to Pyeongtaek based on a proposal by the Program Management Consortium (PMC) that it is feasible to relocate Yongsan Garrison by 2014 and do the 2nd ID by 2016,'' an official at the Ministry of National Defense's bureau on the relocation of U.S. bases told reporters. ``We are seeking to finalize the negotiations and announce a final timetable by the end of the month.''
The PMC, consisting of five firms, both South Korean and U.S., is in charge of the $11-billion relocation project. South Korea is to bear half of the cost under a master plan drawn up last year. The consortium submitted the final proposal regarding the base relocation timetable last month, the official said.
Under a 2004 land-swap pact, the U.S. promised to gradually return a combined 170 square kilometers of land housing 42 military bases and related facilities, spread across the country, into South Korean hands by 2011.
In return, South Korea agreed to offer 12 square kilometers of land to help triple the size of Camp Humphreys. The consolidated military hub, 70 kilometers south of Seoul, will accommodate about 44,000 U.S. service personnel, their families, base workers and South Korean soldiers.
The two allies agreed that South Korea will bear the cost of relocating Yongsan Garrison, while the United States will foot the bill for moving 2nd ID bases.
The relocation had been scheduled to be completed by 2008. But the plan hit a snag due to protest rallies by anti-U.S. groups and local farmers. Seoul and Washington later readjusted the target year to 2012.
About 28,500 American troops are stationed here.