Thousands of South Korean staff face forced leave at US military bases

A US-South Korea joint river crossing exercise in the border county of Yeoncheon. The US and South Korea remain at an impasse over how they share the cost of funding US troops there. (AFP)
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Updated 30 January 2020

Thousands of South Korean staff face forced leave at US military bases

  • US Forces Korea (USFK) issued 60-day potential furlough notices to 9,000 South Korean employees at US military installations
  • Cost-sharing negotiations between the allied nations remain deadlocked, with the US demanding the South pay $4.7 billion in host-nation support

SEOUL: A dispute over a cost-sharing scheme for maintaining US troops in South Korea has put local staff at risk of losing their jobs.

On Tuesday the US Forces Korea (USFK) issued 60-day potential furlough notices to 9,000 South Korean employees at US military installations, where about 28,000 American soldiers are stationed to help safeguard the South against military threats from North Korea.

“United States Forces began providing Korean national employees today with a 60-day notice of a potential administrative furlough that could occur on April 1, 2020,” USFK said in a statement.

Cost-sharing negotiations between the allied nations remain deadlocked, with the US demanding the South pay $4.7 billion in host-nation support, nearly five times more than Seoul’s contribution of about $870 million last year.

US President Donald Trump insists the South stump up more money for shared security burdens, calling the country wealthy.

“Without the Republic of Korea’s continued commitment to share the cost of employing our Korean national workforce, USFK will soon exhaust programmed funds available to pay their salaries and wages,” the USFK statement read.

“We don’t blame our government,” Kang Tae-wook, secretary general of the policy bureau at the USFK Employee Union, told Arab News. “The current impasse over the cost-sharing issue is because America’s demand is out of the existing agreement’s framework. There were a few times when the USFK gave potential furlough notices to South Korean workers at US bases. This year, they notified each worker individually. That means they are more serious than before.”  

Union members have pledged to continue working at their bases even if they are not paid.

“This is a security-related issue,” Kang added. “We will keep working without payment for the security of this country. We hope both governments will strike a deal in a reasonable, fair and mutually acceptable manner in the near future.”

There is concern about livelihoods, however.

“If this is prolonged by several months, our homes will be disrupted,” Lee Jae-soo, a 48-year-old security guard at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi province, told Arab News. “Even American soldiers and friends here are worried about the current situation.” He added that the problem was political and not related to “the friendship between the people of Korea and America.”

Most of the South Korean workers provide administrative and technical support to US service personnel and their salaries have been covered by their country’s contribution.

A furlough could jeopardize the security of US bases, as well as the defense readiness of the allied forces.

“Without the normal operation of base facilities, unit training and readiness would be affected, as service members would have to be assigned to roles outside their duties,” a USFK official who requested anonymity told Arab News.

The presence of US troops in South Korea is regarded as a deterrent to aggression from the North, which is armed with a nuclear arsenal and conventional weapon systems. Under a wartime operational scenario, the US military is supposed to draw up to 690,000 American personnel from outside the Korean Peninsula.

Meanwhile, major US-South Korean military drills have been suspended since a Singapore meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in April 2018.


Ex-PM May attacks ‘reckless’ UK Brexit plan

Updated 1 min 58 sec ago

Ex-PM May attacks ‘reckless’ UK Brexit plan

LONDON: Britain’s former prime minister Theresa May said Monday she would not support the government’s new Brexit legislation, which will break international law, accusing the government of acting “recklessly and irresponsibly.”
May, whose 2016-2019 premiership was derailed by the tortuous Brexit process, said the draft law would “lead to untold damage to the United Kingdom’s reputation.”
“As a result, with regret, I have to tell the minister I cannot support this bill,” she told fellow MPs as the proposed legislation underwent scrutiny in parliament.
The UK Internal Market Bill unveiled earlier this month would override parts of the Brexit treaty struck by May’s successor Boris Johnson with the European Union last year.
Ministers have admitted it would breach international law.
British lawmakers voted last week to allow the draft law to proceed for further scrutiny despite EU calls for it to be withdrawn.
Numerous MPs from the ruling Conservatives cautioned against adopting the most contentious measures in the legislation, but only two ended up voting against it while 29 abstained — including May.
Lawmakers will vote again on the bill on Tuesday next week before it goes to the House of Lords for weeks of further scrutiny.
Johnson has argued it will provide a “safety net” against what he has claimed are EU threats to impose tariffs on UK internal trade and even stop food going from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland.
But EU leaders have dismissed this as spin and warned Johnson to uphold commitments he made in the Brexit treaty last year and withdraw the offending parts of the new bill by the end of the month.
The row threatens to disrupt already tough post-Brexit trade negotiations, fueling growing fears of failure that would see more than four decades of EU-UK integration come to a crashing halt at the end of this year.
Britain left the EU in January but remains bound by the rules of the 27-member bloc until December 31.