By Jung Sung-ki
South Korea and the United States have agreed to complete the long delayed relocation of U.S. military bases to south of the Han River by 2015, a government source said Thursday.
The agreement was made in a meeting of top defense officials from both sides held in Seoul to finalize the timeline and cost for relocating American military facilities to Pyeongtaek, about 70 kilometers south of the capital.
Vice Defense Minister Chang Soo-man represented the Korean delegation at the talks held in the Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command headquarters, while U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. Walter Sharp led the U.S. side, according to the Ministry of National Defense.
``The two sides have practically agreed to complete the U.S. base relocation by 2015, though a few technical issues need to be further ironed out,'' the source told The Korea Times on condition of anonymity.
Seoul and Washington have engaged in a tug-of-war over the relocation project whose timeline has been readjusted several times.
Under the Land Partnership Plan (LPP) reached in 2002, the United States promised to foot the bill for moving its 2nd Infantry Division units stationed north of Seoul by 2008.
South Korea is required to bear the cost of relocating Yongsan Garrison in Seoul by the same timeline under the Yongsan Relocation Plan (YRP) finalized in 2004.
But the timetable has been delayed several times following protests by progressive civic groups and other technical problems with constructing and modernizing facilities at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek.
Both sides fixed the timetable to 2012 later, but the figure has been under review again as the United States complained about budget shortfalls. South Korea recently set the schedule to 2014, while the United States wanted the target year of 2016, according to sources.
In a news release following the Cha-Sharp talks, the ministry said the two sides made ``important progress'' during the meeting and would hold a second round of talks next week to come up with a ``substantial outcome.''
Under a master plan drawn up by the two governments in 2007, Seoul agreed to pay for slightly more than half of the $10 billion required for the relocation.
After expansion, Camp Humphreys will accommodate about 44,000 U.S. servicemembers, their families, base workers and South Korean soldiers.