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Haeundae vows to stop social distancing violations by US soldiers

This photo uploaded on a social network service account on May 29, shows Haeundae Beach crowded with visitors. (A social network service account)
This photo uploaded on a social network service account on May 29, shows Haeundae Beach crowded with visitors. (A social network service account)
The district office of Busan’s Haeundae-gu said on Wednesday it will crack down on the violation of social distancing rules on Haeundae beach with local police and US military police over the period of July 2-4, which culminates with the US Independence Day holiday.

American soldiers who violate social distancing rules will be immediately identified by US military police and slapped with fines, the ward office said, as there have been complaints against US servicemen in the area on US public holidays.

Dozens of US soldiers, mostly unmasked, set off fireworks and partied on the streets of Haeundae on July 4 last year.

One of them was fined 50,000 won ($44) for shooting a firecracker at a pedestrian.

Under the South Korea-US Status of Forces Agreement, South Korean police cannot arrest or detain US service members unless they are suspected of any of 12 serious crimes, such as murder, rape and arson.

Even to impose a fine, they need to be identified by US Forces Korea.

On May 30 during the holiday weekend of US Memorial Day, some 2,000 non-Koreans including US soldiers celebrated around Haeundae Beach, launching fireworks and consuming alcohol while mostly not wearing masks.

Under current COVID-19 pandemic rules, no more than five persons are allowed to gather, and everyone aged 14 or more is required to wear masks outdoors and indoors.

Although social distancing rules will be eased to allow gatherings with no limits in size outside the Seoul metropolitan area from July 1, Haeundae-gu plans to stick to the five-person rule during the three days to July 4.

About 150 police officers are expected to be on patrol around Haeundae, accompanied by 16 members of the US military police, on each of the three days.

The district office had written to the US Forces Korea, Ministry of National Defense and Ministry of Foreign Affairs to request US military police assistance, as violations of social distancing rules by US soldiers in the area have made others feel insecure and unpleasant.

Officials from Busan City, Haeundae-gu and the US military police held a meeting last week to discuss ways to prevent further violations during US public holidays.

The USFK said on Tuesday they had ordered limitations on visits to Busan during the three days to July 4.

All USFK majors and service members of lower ranks need to get approval from their supervisors in advance to visit Busan.

The USFK also said its service members will be educated on the South Korean government’s pandemic rules, Haeundae-gu‘s administrative orders as well as what is banned on the beaches.


By Kim So-hyun (sophie@heraldcorp.com)
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