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Seoul sharply cuts budget for boosting USFK defense capacity

2013/11/11 13:57

SEOUL, Nov. 11 (Yonhap) -- South Korea has sharply reduced next year's budget for building up the defense capability of the United States Forces Korea (USFK) amid the ongoing talks on how to share the cost of keeping American troops here, a defense ministry report showed Monday.

According to the report submitted to Rep. Park Joo-sun, South Korea has set aside a total of 799.7 billion won (US$749.6 million) in next year's budget to co-finance USFK's defense activities in the country.

South Korea's annual defense cost contribution to USFK covers four main sectors -- defense capacity building, military facility upgrading, logistical supports and labor costs.

For defense capacity building costs next year, Seoul earmarked only 7.2 billion won, or 0.9 percent of the total contribution, according to the ministry report. It marks a 72.3 percent cut from this year's budget allocated for the defense capacity building costs.

The 2014 budgets for the other three sectors were all lifted, the report showed. The country earmarked 297.3 billion for USFK's 2014 labor costs, up from 235.5 billion won this year, while the costs for logistical supports were lifted to 153.8 billion won from 140.5 billion won and the costs for military facility upgrading increased from 235.5 billion won to 297.3 billion won.

The lawmaker pointed out that the latest change shows more South Korean funds are being funneled to finance USFK's military base relocation plan, rather than to beef up military capabilities.

The report came as the two allies are preparing to hold their seventh round of negotiations next week in Washington to renew the Special Measure Agreement (SMA) on splitting the costs of USFK's defense activities here.

The two sides have been widely apart in the past talks, with Seoul calling for measures to guarantee transparency in USFK's spending of the South Korea-contributed funds.

Seoul's call also includes a measures to revamp USFK's practice of using South Korean government money for the decade-old plan to relocate bases in Yongsan and those belonging to the 2nd Infantry Division to Pyeongtaek, about 70 kilometers south of Seoul.

Under the 2004 land partnership plan covering the USFK relocation, the U.S. agreed to finance the relocation of its combat division on its own.

The two sides are planning to come up with an agreement by early December before the latest five-year SMA between the two countries expires at the end of 2013.

"The final agreement is likely to come only at the last minute (due to still wide opinion gaps)," a government source said.

There are 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea under a mutual defense treaty aimed at deterring potential aggression from North Korea. It is a legacy of the Korean War (1950-53), which ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty, leaving the two Koreas technically in a state of war.

pbr@yna.co.kr

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