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Seoul, Washington to hold SOFA committee meeting next month

South Korea and the United States plan to hold a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) meeting in June, during which they are expected to mainly discuss the treatment of Korean civilian staff hired by U.S. troops, sources said Tuesday.

The meeting of the SOFA Joint Committee will be held in Seoul next month in a bid to mainly discuss ways to enhance the treatment of some 8,500 Koreans working at U.S. military bases, according to the sources.

Both sides may exchange views about the treatment and wages for such Korean workers as they might feel jittery about their job security due to the U.S. forces' planned base relocation from Yongsan in central Seoul to Pyeongtaek, some 70 kilometers south of Seoul, they added.

SOFA governs the legal status of around 28,500 U.S. soldiers stationed here, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War.

Whether to raise wages for Koreans hired by U.S. troops could be discussed as South Korea will shoulder more labor costs for such workers under a renewed defense-cost sharing pact between the two nations, according to sources.

Under the new deal covering the five-year period from 2014, South Korea is set to pay 920 billion won (US$898.8 million) to United States Forces Korea (USFK) this year, up 5.8 percent from last year.

At the joint SOFA committee meeting in December, South Korea and the U.S. revised the guidelines for the treatment of U.S.

forces here following a controversial "handcuffing incident" by American servicemen in 2012.

The revision was made in an effort to better define USFK's off-base patrol missions and prevent such an incident.

In July 2012, seven U.S. servicemen used force when handcuffing three South Korean civilians while patrolling the vicinity of their military base in Pyeongtaek.

Despite crimes committed by U.S. forces, South Korean authorities have often failed to take legal action against U.S. soldiers as the SOFA regulations allow the suspects to be handed over to U.S. authorities. (Yonhap)


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