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U.S. Forces’ new headquarters opens in 7 days

June 22,2018
The U.S. military’s main command in South Korea will officially open its new headquarters next Friday in Pyeongtaek, 40 miles south of its current home in Yongsan District, central Seoul, marking a major milestone in the relocation of the U.S. Forces Korea.

Seoul’s Ministry of National Defense announced Thursday that the opening will be celebrated with a ceremony at the new headquarters compound, in which South Korean and U.S. military officials will participate. The ministry did not disclose the list of invitees, but U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis arrives in Seoul next Thursday for a meeting with his South Korean counterpart, Song Young-moo, and local media assumes he’s on it.

The relocation of the headquarters follows a years-long process of moving the U.S. Forces Korea from the Yongsan Garrison in central Seoul to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, a rural city in Gyeonggi. The 8th U.S. Army relocated its headquarters from Yongsan to Pyeongtaek in July 2017.

Seoul and Washington agreed to the transition in May 2003 and set a deadline for 2020. Local authorities plan to build an ecological park at the garrison site in Yongsan once the transition is complete, with the hopes of opening the park for public use by 2027.

The new headquarters is composed of a four-story main building and a two-story annex, taking up 240,000 square meters (59.3 acres) in total. A ministry official said some other buildings on Camp Humphreys were still under construction, but are most likely to be completed by the 2020 deadline.

According to the U.S. Army, the history of the Yongsan Garrison goes back to April 1906, when Japanese forces that took over Korea in 1910 set up a military compound in central Seoul, building permanent structures to support the thousands of troops that poured into the city to maintain order.

Following Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II in 1945, American troops moved into the Japanese base, and the U.S. Army’s 7th Infantry Division established its headquarters that September. South Korea officially agreed to allow the U.S. Army to occupy the compound, and the U.S. Forces Korea established its headquarters in July 1957.

Apart from his suspected participation in the opening ceremony next Friday, U.S. Defense Secretary Mattis will talk with South Korean Defense Minister Song about the agreement signed in the North Korea-U.S. summit earlier this month.

Choi Hyun-soo, the Defense Ministry’s spokesperson, said Thursday that Mattis and Song will also likely discuss the suspension of the joint Freedom Guardian exercise. The drill was scheduled to take place in August, but the allies announced Tuesday that it won’t be held as long as progress is seen in denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, LEE CHUL-JAE [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]