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South Korea And US Finalise Plan For New Military Alliance

US and South Korean soldiers. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Staff Writers
Seoul (AFP) Sep 29, 2006
South Korea and the United States have agreed on a programme to reshape their military alliance and give Seoul a bigger role in countering any North Korean attack, officials said Friday. The defense ministry said the two sides signed new terms for the decades-old alliance after talks in Washington on Wednesday and Thursday.

The "joint study" would be presented to next month's annual meeting of defence chiefs, the ministry said in a statement.

It gave no details but the issue of wartime operational control over the South's forces was the key topic.

South Korea surrendered operational control over its military to the US-led United Nations Command soon after the Korean War broke out in 1950 with an invasion from the communist North.

It regained peacetime control in 1994 but wartime control over Seoul's 650,000-strong military remains in the hands of the top US commander here.

The government wants to regain wartime control by 2012, citing national pride. The United States has proposed an earlier date of 2009.

The issue has split society, with conservative groups, veterans, intellectuals and others saying it will weaken defences against the North's nuclear and missile threat.

The main opposition Grand National Party accuses President Roh Moo-Hyun of playing with "a life and death issue" to bolster his waning support.

Several dozen retired generals and former defense ministers have also come out against the plan.

Communist North Korea meanwhile described the planned command transfer as an attempt "to accelerate the preparations for a war of aggression against the North."

A commentary in the government newspaper, Minju Joson, said the move was a US pretext to strengthen its domination over South Korea and use its troops as "bullet-shields" for American forces in such a war.

The North also lashed out at South Korea's development of a cruise missile capable of hitting missile-launching sites deep inside North Korea.

A body called the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, in a statement on the official Korean Central News Agency, called the move an "intolerable provocation" which would "push the inter-Korean relations to the phase of confrontation and war."

The two Koreas are still technically in a state of war since the 1950-53 conflict ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. South Korea did not sign the armistice in protest at its terms.

The United States has stationed tens of thousands of troops in South Korea ever since but wants to cut the current 29,500 to 25,000 by 2008. It also wants flexibility to deploy them elsewhere in the region if necessary.

The two sides at the Security Policy Initiative meeting also discussed ways to strengthen their combined deterrent against any North Korean aggression, Yonhap news agency said.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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