“How can something like this happen?” This was what struck me when I got a report on the soil contamination by oil leaked from the US military compound in Yongsan. It doesn’t make sense if we can’t even start an investigation of the soil contamination, let alone set up fundamental measures, even if the US Forces are protected by the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).
According to the report, the first oil leak in Yongsan was first found 12 years ago, and the situation has not been improved, yet no substantial measure can be taken. The thing is, the matter requires checking inside of the Yongsan military compound, but USFK has not agreed to such. The contaminated area is said to be at least 12,235㎡ (= 3 acres) near Noksapyeong Station close to Camp Kim, and Seoul Metropolitan Goverment has spent 5.8 billion won to prevent the expansion of the contaminated area. Based on our estimation, however, the real damage would be much larger and more serious than this.
What Seoul Metropolitan Government has been able to do is to check the area outside of the US military compound. As for the expense paid by Seoul Metropolitan Government, there has not been a single case wherein a local government won against USFK concerning such damages. Thus, a realistic solution is to file a lawsuit against the central government. Seoul Metropolitan Government has spent 75 million won for such lawsuit against the Central Government.
The report upset me. I ordered Seoul Metropolitan Government officials to ask USFK to take a remedial step for the area suspected to be a source of contamination inside the military compound or to allow us to look into the situation accurately. I was ready to discuss the matter with the US Ambassador in Seoul or the USFK Commander. At my instruction, Seoul Metropolitan Government officials disclosed the situation to the mass media and sent letters to the Ministry of Environment (MOE), USFK, and US Embassy in Seoul to draw their attention to the case.
Finally, USFK expressed its willingness to discuss the case with us. The case was adopted as an item of agenda for discussion at the meeting held on June 17 between MOE and USFK with Seoul Metropolitan Government officials in attendance. This is the first time USFK has given its official response to the case, which was first raised 12 years ago.
Seoul Metropolitan Government officials, experts, and civic organizations should be allowed to check the onsite situation within the military compound so that a substantial measure may be taken. Through its press release dated June 1, USFK said that it would extend positive, transparent cooperation to the demand for environment-related information, and that it expects the June 17 meeting to be a meaningful, productive session. We will be looking forward to the constructive development of the case.