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Revision calls mount for U.S. forces rules

Lawmakers and civic groups are calling for the revision of the Status of Forces Agreement with the U.S. to toughen regulations after possible environmental contamination here.

They argue that with the “abstract, vaguely-worded terms” in the pact, the Seoul government cannot demand that the U.S. engage in environmental surveys or offer compensation for its troops’ environmental damage here.

The two allies established new environmental regulations in the SOFA in 2001. But critics say the expressions in them are not clear-cut enough for Seoul to hold the U.S. strictly responsible for possible environmental contamination.

Calls for the revision came as public fears are growing after three former U.S. Forces Korea soldiers claimed that Agent Orange, a toxic defoliant known to cause cancer, was dumped in 1978 at Camp Carroll in Waegwan, North Gyeongsang Province.

During a confirmation hearing for Environment Minister nominee Yoo Young-sook, Rep. Chung Dong-young of the main opposition Democratic Party stressed the need for the revision.

“Under the SOFA, the South Korea-U.S. joint investigation cannot help but be led by the U.S. side,” he said.

The Seoul government, however, maintains a cautious stance over the proposed revision, saying that it is a matter of how to operate the agreement rather than a matter of the expressions.

Officials say given that the SOFA contains similar content compared with others the U.S. has with Germany and Japan, the agreement is not unfair. They also believe that should the alleged burial of Agent Orange at the camp be confirmed, it would not be difficult to demand the U.S. take responsibility for it.

“The SOFA has been operated since 1967 and has been revised in consideration of various situations including security conditions here. When the need arises for the revision, we will take care of it in close consultation with the U.S.,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Byung-jae told reporters.

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)
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