SEOUL, June 10 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's defense ministry said Friday it will soon begin a probe into another allegation that the U.S. military buried toxic defoliant Agent Orange at one of its former bases in the country.
Since mid-May, South Korea and the U.S. have launched a joint probe into a U.S. military base in Chilgok, some 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, where some retired American soldiers claimed that they had helped bury drums of leftover Agent Orange there in 1978.
The claims of Agent Orange being buried at Camp Carroll have sparked a series of allegations by former U.S. soldiers and local residents that the U.S. military dumped other chemicals at its former or current military bases in South Korea.
Last week, some retired American soldiers raised a second allegation that Agent Orange was buried at an ex-U.S. base called Camp Page in Chuncheon, 85 km east of Seoul. Camp Page was turned over to South Korea in 2005.
"We will open a further investigation on a suspicion that the defoliant was buried at Camp Page in Chuncheon," Vice Defense Minister Lee Yong-gul told reporters.
"After reviewing other allegations that Agent Orange was buried at other ex-U.S. military bases, we will consider expanding our investigation if necessary."
Ministry officials said the investigation at Camp Page would soon start as early as next week.
The defense ministry has surveyed 85 former U.S. installations that were turned over to South Korea before 2003 as part of the relocation of U.S. bases.
No evidence backing the allegations of Agent Orange burial at Camp Carroll has been found yet, but frustration among local residents in Chilgok is growing as the U.S. military-led probe has produced little progress so far.
The U.S. military said documents show that large amounts of chemicals were buried at Camp Carroll in 1978, but were removed from the base during the following two years. Still, nobody knows where the chemicals were moved to.
In a statement released on Friday, Lt. Gen. John D. Johnson, commander of the Eighth U.S. Army and lead investigator for the Camp Carroll probe, stressed the need for patience, saying he shares the concerns of the local residents.
"We regret the concern these allegations have caused to our Korean neighbors," Johnson said.
The U.S. military is "committed to cooperating fully with the Korean government during this investigation. We owe it to them to ensure our investigation is deliberate, thorough and transparent," he said.
"My focus is to ensure there is no risk to the health of the people on Camp Carroll or off Camp Carroll. And if there is, I'll fix it," Johnson said.
Agent Orange, the toxic defoliant widely used during the Vietnam War, was sprayed by U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) in the 1960s around the inter-Korean border, called the Demilitarized Zone, to thwart North Korean infiltrations.
Contaminated by dioxin, the defoliant is suspected of causing serious health problems, including cancer and genetic damage, among some people, as well as birth defects in their children.
About 28,500 U.S. soldiers are based in South Korea under a mutual defense treaty, signed during the 1950-1953 Korean War.
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