- The Washington Times - Friday, December 29, 2000

SEOUL South Korea has received the right to detain American servicemen suspected of rape and murder as part of a revised agreement governing the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed throughout the country.

The new accord, reached yesterday after 11 rounds of talks since 1995, resolves one of the most contentious disputes between the two allies.

Under the old Status of Forces Agreement, first signed in 1966 and revised in 1991, American troops accused of crimes were detained in U.S. military custody until they were convicted in the South Korean judicial system and all appeals were exhausted.

Calling it too lenient and an infringement upon its sovereignty, South Korea sought revisions to the agreement, which governs the legal treatment of U.S. troops stationed there since 1954 as protection against communist North Korean aggression. Activists said the accord discriminated against South Korea compared with similar arrangements the United States has with Japan and Germany.

Under the revised treaty, U.S. soldiers accused of murder, rape, arson, drug trafficking and eight other serious crimes would be turned over to South Korea upon indictment. In murder or rape cases, South Korean police would have the right to arrest and detain U.S. military suspects.

South Korea, in return, promised to protect and strengthen suspects' rights to legal counsel and speedy trial. The new agreement also called for enhanced safeguards for accused U.S. soldiers regarding detention facilities and media exposure, said Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Frederick Smith, who signed the accord with his South Korean counterpart, Song Min-soon.

The rights and responsibilities of the U.S. troops stationed here is a politically sensitive subject among South Koreans.

Many were enraged by the handling of a case involving a U.S. soldier accused of killing a South Korean waitress. The soldier was detained by the U.S. military but fled the base hours before he was to stand trial in a Seoul court. Eventually apprehended by Seoul police, he later was sentenced to eight years in prison.

President Kim Dae-jung had urged Washington to revise the treaty as quickly as possible to prevent anti-American activists in Seoul from using the issue to demand that all U.S. forces leave South Korea.

The new agreement calls for U.S. troops at 85 facilities nationwide to respect South Korean environmental regulations. It also boosts the labor rights of South Koreans working for the U.S. military and calls for joint quarantine inspections on animals, plants and other products imported by U.S. forces.

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