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Seoul Ready to Regain Wartime Operational Control from US
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South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun said Wednesday that his country was ready for getting back the wartime operational control of South Korean troops from the US forces in South Korea.

"Our defense capability has been continuously strengthened," Roh said in an interview with the Yonhap News Agency, adding that "even if we get back the wartime operational control now, we can exercise it."

Roh's remarks came amid criticism by the conservatives that an early return of the wartime operational control might weaken South Korea's defense capability and leave negative effect on the balance on the Korean Peninsula.

"The wartime operational control is the core of self-defense, and self-defense is the core of a self-reliant country," Roh said.

"When we have wartime operational control, we also can take the initiative in military talks with the North (the Democratic People' s Republic of Korea) to ease tension and build up military confidence measures on the peninsula." Roh said.

However, the president said the handover of the wartime operational control is "most appropriate to fit it to the timing of (US forces) moving into the Pyeongtaek base."

"There are lots of things to discuss and I think US troops' relocation to the Pyeongtaek base will eventually happen in 2010 or 2011," Roh added.

The United States plans to expand Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, some 70 km south of Seoul, to relocate most of its 30,000-strong troops in South Korea.

South Korea and the United States launched negotiations in last October on the creation of new command systems that can replace the US-led Combined Forces Command (CFC).

According to South Korean Defense Ministry officials, the two sides expect to draw a roadmap for the operational control issue in October when annual talks between the two defense chiefs is held in Washington.

The US-led UN Command captured the operational control of South Korean military forces in 1950 when the Korean War erupted.

In 1978, the CFC was created and took over wartime control rights from the UNC.

Seoul took back the peacetime control of South Korea's 680,000-strong forces in 1994 while the wartime operational control remains in the hands of the US commander in South Korea.

(Xinhua News Agency August 10, 2006)

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