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Seoul reviews custody rights over U.S. troops

Aggressively seeks to exercise investigation right


Seoul will aggressively look to practice an existing right to preliminary investigation over U.S. military personnel, in light of two recent alleged sex crimes by U.S. soldiers, government officials said Thursday.

Working-level officials from the Foreign, Justice and Defense Ministry, and the National Police Agency discussed the measure within the Status of Armed Forces Agreement.

The SOFA governs the legal status of 28,500 U.S. military personnel stationed here.

“There will be examinations to improve on any of the problems found while executing the current SOFA agreement,” said a Foreign Ministry official, whose name was undisclosed to the media.

“If deemed necessary, the findings will be delivered to the U.S. authorities,” he added.

The recent sex crime cases have reignited calls for a revision of a particular article in the SOFA, which was last revised in 2001. But officials are looking to effectively utilize the articles in the agreement, rather than call for a revision.

Originally the provision in question, Article 22 of the SOFA, says that if a U.S. soldier is suspected of a crime, including murder or rape, Korean police can take them into custody only if they are caught at the scene.

However the article also states that if a member of U.S. military personnel is in the custody of the U.S., the military authorities will hand them over at Korea’s request.

“The United States shall promptly make any such accused available to the authorities of the Republic of Korea upon their request for the purposes of investigation and trial, and shall take all appropriate measures to that end and to prevent any prejudice to the course of justice,” it reads.

It also states that any request for a transfer of custody of U.S. personnel to Korea before or after judicial proceedings will be given to the U.S. Forces Korea Judge Advocate.

Regarding this, Seoul will review measures to utilize their right to request custody of U.S. military suspects in future cases before they are prosecuted.

The government is also considering educating their investigators in exercising the SOFA.

By Robert Lee (robert@heraldcorp.com)
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