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US Plan to Cut Troops in the ROK Not Final: Seoul

A plan put forward by the United States to cut its 37,500 troops in the Republic of Korea (ROK) by a third by the end of next year has not yet been finalized and remains up for discussion, senior ROK officials said on Tuesday.  

ROK and US officials taking part in military talks in Seoul on Monday announced the troop cut plan, part of a global realignment strategy by the United States, that would pull out 12,500 soldiers in 2004 and 2005.


"There still need to be negotiations," Defense Minister Cho Young-kil was quoted as saying in a pool report before a cabinet meeting at the presidential Blue House.


President Roh Moo-hyun's national security adviser, Kwon Jin-ho, was quoted in the pool report as saying the proposed timing of the redeployment by the end of 2005 was also up for discussion, as well as the type of troops involved.


"All we have is the United States making its proposal," Kwon said. "It is something we need to consider and the two countries need to discuss."


The proposed troop cut includes the 3,600 US soldiers already earmarked to be redeployed from the front lines of the ROK's defense against a possible aggression by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) to Iraq.


Washington announced late last year it aimed to transform its forces worldwide and use advances in military technology and smaller, more mobile units to better respond to new security needs and fight the war on terrorism.


The US plan to cut its troops in the ROK by a third rattled the ROK more with its proposed timing of the end of next year than with its scale.


While ROK officials denied the proposed timing was a particular cause for concern, some newspapers sounded alarm that the pace of the planned pull-out would create a security vacuum before the ROK's defense can be upgraded to maintain deterrence.


"The Korean Peninsula is one of the most vulnerable places in the world when it comes to security," the conservative Dong-a Ilbo said in an editorial on Tuesday.


"We have to ask whether it is the right action for a 50-year ally to unilaterally pull troops from a potential conflict zone," it said, referring to the United States.


Nearly two million troops are deployed on the Korean Peninsula, bisected by the Demilitarized Zone drawn up under a truce that suspended the 1950-53 Korean War.


The last round of cutbacks in the US presence in the ROK sent 28,000 troops home in the 1970s and another 7,000 in 1992, each time in the face of public and government objections.


These days, however, there is a significant and vocal minority who oppose the US troop presence.


Pyongyang has yet to respond to the US proposal, although it said of earlier reports on troop cuts that it was a ploy to cover plans to attack the DPRK.


(China Daily via agencies, June 8, 2004)

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