SEOUL -- The U.S. military agreed on Friday to return 12 sites to South Korea, including some in central Seoul, clearing the way for civilian construction projects after years of squabbling over the hand-back.
U.S. forces have been stationed in South Korea since the 1950-53 Korean War. In recent years, the allies have disputed the cost of maintaining the 28,500 U.S. personnel at various bases despite what many see as a growing North Korean threat.
The 12 sites are among 80 that U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) agreed in 2002 to hand over to South Korea for redevelopment but the plans have been delayed by haggling over clean-up costs.
The two sides finalised the handover plan for the 12 sites on the condition that the discussion of clean-up costs continued, South Korean government agencies said in a statement.
“We reached the decision comprehensively considering social and economic issues in the communities caused by the delays and their requests for the swift return,” Choi Chang-won, a vice minister of government policy coordination, told a briefing.
Residents in some areas have protested for years to get the sites returned to civilian use saying the U.S. facilities stifled development plans and undermined property prices.
Among the 12 sites are six in the capital, Seoul, including two at the Yongsan Garrison in the city centre, which housed the USFK headquarters until it was moved to the new, sprawling Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, in 2018.
The government plans to refurbish the sites and build residential and commercial facilities to help curb spiralling apartment prices, the government agencies said.
The health ministry and Seoul authorities are considering a plan for a public hospital specialising in infectious diseases at one of the sites in the capital.