The US on Friday returned multiple parcels of land of its military's Yongsan Garrison in central Seoul and two other bases north of the capital to South Korea, the defence ministry here said, a move bound to accelerate regional development projects.
The decision, including the return of 1,65,000 square metres of land inside the garrison, came as Seoul has been pushing to clear hurdles for a mega project to build a national park in Yongsan and other regional refurbishment plans, Yonhap news agency reported.
Lim Sang-woo, director-general for North American affairs at Seoul's foreign ministry, and Lt. Gen. Scott L. Pleus, the deputy chief of the US Forces Korea, approved the decision in a telephone conference. They are representatives of the joint committee of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) governing the legal status of 28,500 American troops here.
The returned swathes of land in Yongsan are part of the nearly 5,00,000 square metres of land in the garrison that the US agreed last year to work toward handing over to the South by early this year.
At the joint committee session, the two sides reaffirmed their commitment to pursue the return of a "considerable" portion of the Yongsan Garrison by early this year, its joint statement read.
Friday's decision also included the return of Camp Red Cloud in Uijeongbu, 20 kms north of Seoul, and a water detention basin of Camp Stanley in the same city.
The handover of the Red Cloud site spanning 830,000 square metres is where the Uijeongbu municipality seeks to construct an e-commerce logistics complex. The return of the 1,000-square-metre basin is expected to help the city's river refurbishment efforts, officials said.
Aside from the return, the two countries reached a consensus on ways to improve information sharing, an environmental accident response system and access to US military installations as part of efforts to strengthen the "cleaner, safer" management of American bases currently in use, according to Seoul officials.
The return of the base is part of a broad relocation scheme to consolidate US bases across the Korean Peninsula into a garrison in Pyeongtaek, 70 km south of Seoul, and another in Daegu, 302 km southeast of the capital, with an aim to enhance defence readiness and operational efficiency in the face of North Korean military threats.