US Forces Korea began notifying 5,000 South Korean employees Wednesday that they would be furloughed starting next month, officials said, as defense cost-sharing talks between the two countries remain stalled.
The two sides have been negotiating a new Special Measures Agreement that stipulates how much Seoul should pay for the upkeep of the 28,500-strong USFK. Salaries of about 9,000 South Korean employees are also funded under the agreement.
The latest round of negotiations took place last week, but the two sides failed to bridge differences.
USFK has warned of furloughs starting April 1 unless a new cost-sharing deal is reached in time.
On Wednesday, USFK began sending out furlough notices to about 4,500-5,000 workers, an official said.
During the defense cost talks, South Korea proposed concluding a separate agreement to first address the wage issue, but the US rejected the idea over concerns that such a move could further delay a comprehensive deal, according to Seoul's top negotiator Jeong Eun-bo.
Earlier, the US Department of Defense said it will fund the salaries of key Korean workers who provide life, health, safety and other services.
Since last September, the two countries have held seven rounds of SMA talks. The US still demands a hefty increase of Seoul's financial contribution to the USFK to some $4 billion, while Seoul appears to have expressed willingness to pay more than its earlier proposal of an apporximate 10 percent increase. (Yonhap)