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SOFA Joint Committee discusses custody

Korean and U.S. delegates held a joint committee meeting in Seoul on Wednesday discussing the U.S. military’s governing protocols over its personnel here, amid public cries for reforms after crimes by U.S. soldiers.

The Korea-U.S. Joint Committee, including USFK Deputy Commander Jeffrey Remington and Foreign Ministry officials, discussed the Status of Forces Agreement which governs some 28,000 troops stationed throughout the Korean Peninsula.

The meeting’s top issue was the custody of U.S. military personnel suspected of committing crimes here. This recently received media attention after a string of crimes this year by U.S. soldiers including the rapes of two teenage girls.

According to reports, rather than renegotiating the SOFA, last revised in 2001, the committee is considering an agreed recommendation, after increased public pressure that Korea gain custody of U.S. soldiers before they are prosecuted.

“It is difficult to predict the outcome of the decision at the moment,” said one ministry official, whose name was withheld from the media.

“Discussions and reviews must be held regarding the U.S.’s position heard today and SOFA’s between the U.S. and other countries.”

It is seen that the two countries are moving towards changes that already took place in the U.S.-Japan SOFA, following a rape of a 12-year-old Japanese girl by three U.S. military personnel in 1995.

Widespread outrage spread in Japan, leading to a change in the SOFA to possibly transfer custody of U.S. military personnel suspected of crimes, before indictment, to Japanese authorities, should the offense be sufficiently severe.

Under the Korea-U.S. SOFA, Korean authorities are able to request transfer of custody of a suspect from the U.S. military in 12 specific circumstances. Korean authorities are able to hold suspects in custody if arrested at the scene.

Such cases include murder, rape, trafficking and manufacturing illegal drugs, arson and kidnapping for ransom, as well as attempting to commit such acts.

However, Article 25 of the SOFA between Korea and the U.S. states that the U.S. military will transfer the custody of a soldier suspected of a crime who is under its custody at the time of indictment or after, for the crimes that are specified in the agreement.

By Robert Lee
(robert@heraldcorp.com)
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