South Korea gets more power to police US soldiers on its soil

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The Independent Online

Removing a major diplomatic irritant, the United States and South Korea have signed a new accord that gives South Korea more legal jurisdiction over American soldiers accused of crimes on its soil.

Removing a major diplomatic irritant, the United States and South Korea have signed a new accord that gives South Korea more legal jurisdiction over American soldiers accused of crimes on its soil.

South Korean Foreign Minister Lee Joung-binn and Evans JR Revere, charge d'affaires ad interim at the US Embassy, signed the revised Status of Forces Agreement governing the legal treatment of the 37,000 US troops stationed in South Korea as a deterrent against communist North Korea.

After 11 rounds of contentious negotiations since 1995, the two sides agreed on details of the revision late last month. Today's signing gave official government endorsement for the revision.

The new agreement will take effect once it wins approval from South Korea's Parliament. In the United States, it does not require congressional approval.

The revision "is believed to be a reflection of US-South Korea relations, which are developing in a mature and balanced manner," the two governments said in a joint statement.

During the 1990s, South Koreans called for a revision of the decades-old treaty, which they believed infringed upon their sovereignty.

Under the old accord, first signed in 1966 and revised in 1991, US troops accused of a crime had to be detained in American military custody until they were convicted in the Korean judicial system and all appeals were exhausted.

Under the revised treaty, US soldiers accused of murder, rape, arson, drug trafficking and eight other serious crimes would be turned over to South Korea upon indictment. If South Korean police arrest US soldiers for murder or rape, they can maintain custody even before the soldiers are indicted, the new agreement says.

South Korea, in return, agreed to strengthen the rights of accused U.S. soldiers, such as legal counsel and speedy trial.

The revised agreement also sets down new environmental, labor and quarantine regulations on the US military facilities scattered across South Korea.

The rights and responsibilities of the US troops here are a politically sensitive subject for South Koreans. Rape and other serious crimes involving US soldiers receive keen media attention and trigger anti-US protests by a small group of activists.

President Kim Dae-jung had urged Washington to revise the treaty as quickly as possible to prevent anti-American activists in Seoul from using the issue to demand that all US forces leave South Korea.

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