NATIONAL

Korea, U.S. agree to change rules on custody of American soldiers here

By Shin Hyon-hee
  • Published : May 23, 2012 - 20:12
  • Updated : May 24, 2012 - 09:01

Change to SOFA facilitates Korean authorities’ investigation on criminal suspects


South Korea and the U.S. on Wednesday agreed to measures enhancing Korea’s investigative rights in criminal cases involving U.S. soldiers.

The Korea-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement Joint Committee came up with an “agreed recommendation” to amend the SOFA, which governs the legal status of some 28,500 troops stationed here.

It agreed to delete a clause in the agreement which bans Korean authorities from holding U.S. suspects for longer than one day unless they are indicted.

Seoul demanded a change to the rule, which has been blamed for hampering the Korean police’s response to crimes by U.S. service members. 
Lee Baek-soon (right), director general of the Foreign Ministry’s North America bureau, and USFK Deputy Commander Lt. Gen. Jan-Marc Jouas sign an agreed recommendation to amend the SOFA during a meeting of the Korea-U.S. SOFA Joint Committee at the Yongsan Garrison in central Seoul on Wednesday. (Joint Press Corps)

Lee Baek-soon, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s North America bureau, and USFK Deputy Commander Lt. Gen. Jan-Marc Jouas signed the agreement during a meeting of the Korea-U.S. SOFA Joint Committee at the Yongsan Garrison in central Seoul.

The altered rule took effect immediately.

The U.S. military also agreed to ease conditions for its handover of criminal suspects to Korean authorities.

The U.S. military is required to give “sympathetic consideration” when Korea requests a transfer even before indictment, but the rule currently only applies to 12 of the most serious crimes including murder, rape, arson, kidnapping, and drug trafficking and manufacturing.

The two sides agreed to lift the restriction.

“The agreement will enable Korean authorities to effectively practice their investigation rights,” a senior official at the Foreign Ministry told reporters on condition of anonymity.

The latest agreement is aimed at better addressing increasing crimes by U.S. troops but lacks measures to cope with rising pollution and cleanup costs surrounding U.S. military bases.

A recent string of serious crimes have rekindled calls for an adjustment of the SOFA, last amended in 2001. In November, a U.S. soldier was charged with arson. In October, an Army private was sentenced to 10 years in prison for raping a teenage Korean girl, while another was sentenced to six years for rape earlier this month.

With critics calling it overprotective of U.S. servicemen even for severe offenses, the long-standing SOFA has become a political issue in Korea and other countries with a U.S. military presence.

Japan, home to the largest contingent of U.S. forces overseas, made similar changes to custody rules following a 1995 rape case in Okinawa. Washington and Tokyo have agreed to relocate about 9,000 marines from the island prefecture to Guam and other locations amid mounting complaints about accidents, pollution and crimes.

By Shin Hyon-hee (heeshin@heraldcorp.com)