US troops to be moved from Korean frontier

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The Independent Online

South Korea and the United States agreed yesterday to withdraw American troops from positions they have occupied for decades near the demilitarised zone separating South Korea from the communist North.

South Korea and the United States agreed yesterday to withdraw American troops from positions they have occupied for decades near the demilitarised zone separating South Korea from the communist North.

The troops will eventually be moved to "hub bases" at least 75 miles south of the zone, a joint statement said after two days of talks. Even after the redeployment, American troops will continue to train north of Seoul and close to the zone.

The redeployment will remove US military bases from the Korean front line for the first time since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. Plans for the redeployment were announced amid high tensions caused by an international stand-off over North Korea's suspected development of nuclear weapons.

Officials gave no timetable for the withdrawal, reflecting persistent South Korean worries that any reductions would put it at greater risk of a North Korean attack. Most troops at the US headquarters in Seoul, 37 miles south of the border, will also be moved south.

Continuing US military exercises near the zone "will mean that US troops will continue to play the role of a tripwire to deter war," said Lieutenant-General Cha Young Koo, assistant defence minister, who led the South Korean side in talks with the Americans, led by Richard Lawless, deputy assistant defence secretary for East Asia.

In April, Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, said troops stationed near the zone could be shifted south, moved to other countries in the region or even sent home under a global realignment. In his view, the Cold War-era logic of having American troops near the zone, within easy range of North Korea's heavy artillery forces, no longer made sense.

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