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The Revision of the SOFA Emerging As an Important Issue in the Upcoming Election

The Revision of the SOFA Emerging As an Important Issue in the Upcoming Election

Posted December. 06, 2002 22:57,   


With the Korea-U.S. agreement on the improvement of the Status of Forces Agreement governing the legal status of 37,000 U.S. troops here, the political circle is now paying all its attention on the development of the deaths of the Korean teenage girls killed by an American armored vehicle and the revision of the SOFA, because there are signs that the two issues may became an important factor in determining the outcome of the Dec. 19 presidential election.

The move taken by the political circle and the government’s response: Choi Sun-hyung, a chief officer of the election campaign committee of the MDP, Lee Sang-soo, floor leader, and Kim Kyung-je, director of the public relations of the MDP election committee paid a visit to prime minister Kim Suck-soo at the central government building in downtown, Seoul on Dec. 16 and protested to the prime minister over the government’s lukewarm response to the revision of the SOFA.

The lawmakers criticized the minister of the Ministry of Justice of having said, “It is impossible to revise the SOFA in less than two years since the latest revision.” They said, “It is regretful that the minister made such a remark and he seemed to be a spokesman for the U.S. government.”

In response, the prime minister repeated the government position that the government is now taking a cautious action to deal with the revision of the SOFA. He was quoted as saying, “The revision means that the Korean government will have the jurisdiction over criminal cases involving American soldiers. It is reasonable to ask for the revision in principle, but in reality, it is hard to revise the SOFA under the current situation.”

Lee Hoi-chang, presidential candidate of the Grand National Party, in a press conference held in Daejeon, raised his voice that the two governments should take an immediate action to revise the SOFA in order not to repeat the same mistake that caused a lot of pain and humiliation to the Korean people because of the unfair pact. In addition, he said that the GNP and the MDP should hold a floor leaders’ meeting as soon as possible to take a strong action at the National Assembly level. He is planning to attend a vigil protest to be held near the U.S. embassy on Dec. 7. And also, it has been known that Roh Moo-hyun, candidate of the MDP, would meet persons from ‘The People`s Counterplan Committee for the Death of Middle School Girls by the US Army Armored Car (People`s Committee)’ at the early part of the next week.

The moves in the two governments: On Dec. 5, Defense Minister Lee jun and his U.S. counterpart Donald Rumsfeld held a joint press conference after the 34th annual Security Consultative Meeting in Washington. In the joint press conference, the two defense chiefs clearly showed the two governments’ position on the revision of the SOFA.

The U.S. defense minister expressed his regret over the incident by speaking “heart-wrecking sorrow” and the names of the two girls killed in the incident in Korean during his keynote speech, which drew much attention. He said, “I’m sending my condolences to the two girls and their family members. And the two governments will closely work together to prevent the recurrence of the same incident in the future.” However, he expressed his opposition to the revision by saying that if there had been a revision, it would have been impossible to prevent the incident from occurring.

Lee Tae-sik, assistant deputy of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, summoned Evans Levier, U.S. diplomatic minister to Korea and said, “The Korean government has been shocked by the acquittals of the American soldiers who were involved in the incident, even taking into account the cultural differences in the two nations.”

Jong-Koo Yoon Sang-Ho Yun jkmas@donga.com ysh1005@donga.com