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Yongsan to Become Park When U.S. Moves
By Park Jin-Hee
Staff Reporter
USFK commander, Gen. Leon J. LaPorte (right), hosts an honor guard ceremony for Korea's Defense Minister Cho, Yung-Kil (left) at Yongsan Garrison.
The planned relocation of U.S. troops from Seoul to areas farther south is producing opposite reactions from South Koreans. Conservatives including politicians are voicing their worries that the troop redeployment could weaken the national security from the possible North Korean attack, whereas liberals are welcoming the relocation plan as a sign of recovering "territorial sovereignty" from foreign military occupation in the heart of its capital.

Whether they are for or against the U.S. military relocation plan, they all welcome the
the idea of having a vast park in the middle of Seoul, which will be created after American forces stationed in Yongsan move out of the base.

Recently, Seoul and Washington agreed to relocate the U.S. military, including UNC (United Nations Command) and ROK (Republic of Korea) & U.S. Combined Forces Command, from its base in Yongsan to Osan and Pyongtaek in Gyeonggi Province by year 2007. This agreement will put an end to 122 years of occupation of Seoul's heartland by foreign forces.

New York's Central Park
As the U.S. military stationed in Yongsan will move to areas farther south of the Han River Seoulites will have a park nearly the size of New York's Central Park in the heart of one of the world's largest cities. Currently, over 10 million people live in the metropolitan city. Seoul has long been a city notorious for a severe lack of green space since the authoritarian central government started its reckless expansion propelled by real estate developers.

But the Seoul City government is now planning to turn the 810,000-pyong ( 2.7-million-sq.-meter) U.S. military base in Yongsan into a green park bigger than London's Hyde Park.

Mayor Lee Myung-Bak
Recently, Seoul's mayor, Lee Myung-Bak, told a press conference that the city administration will build a super tower, like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, in the center of the park as a monument for wishing peaceful unification of the Korean Peninsula. The tower will be high enough for people to see as far away as North Korea from its observation platform, according to the mayor.

Actually, the U.S. Army's Yongsan base has been hurting the national pride of the Korea people as it has been a symbol of foreign occupation of Seoul's heartland for over a century. Prior to the U.S. Army's presence, Yongsan (Dragon Hill) was used as a base for other foreign troops including the Japanese, Ching Dynasty Chinese, and the mighty Mongols led by Zengis Khan because of its geographic location as the gateway to the capital city.

Its occupation history harks all the way back to 700 year ago when Korean Peninsula was trampled under the hoofs of the mighty Mongolian cavalry. Mongolians made Yongsan as its supply base for half a century.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi
Some 300 years later Yongsan was again used as a supply encampment for the Japanese army during the six-year (Toyotomi) Hideyoshi Invasion (1592-1598). Hideyoshi's troops, armed with modern rifles, conquered almost the entire Peninsula, only to be defeated by Admiral Yi Soon Shin and militia.

The third official occupation of Yongsan by foreign troops took place in the Im-o Military Revolt of 1882, when the "old military" of Chosun Dynasty tried to seize power by driving away Japanese influences from Chosun's court. The Ching Dynasty stationed its troops in Yongsan in its effort to ward off the Japanese military and political influence from the Korean Peninsula. China was vying with Japan for the control of the Peninsula.

Since the Ching Dynasty stationed its troops at Yongsan in 1882, the area has been occupied by foreign troops for 122 consecutive years, much to the disgrace and dishonor of the Korean people. Their self esteem has been denigrated and destroyed subsequently.

Japanese Imperial Army
During the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) two divisions of the Japanese Army landed on the Peninsula and stationed one of them in Yongsan, the stronghold for its Imperial Army to invade mainland China. Japan secured its control on Korea during Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) and turned Yongsan into the headquarters for the occupations forces command.

Soon after Japan's defeat in the Pacific War (1941-1945) and the ensuing Korea's liberation from the Japanese colonial yoke in 1945, the U.S. Army's 24th Division was stationed in Yongsan. Yongsan was free of foreign troops briefly in 1949 as the U.S. withdrew its troops from the Peninsula.

But, the outbreak of the Korean War (1950-1953) brought back the U.S. Army and other U.N. forces, which have been using Yongsan as its headquarters for over half a century. In 1978 ROK (Republic of Korea) & U.S. Combined Forces Command was created with its headquarters also in Yongsan.

U.S. Military in Korea
As the U.S. military, hopefully the last of the foreign forces, moves out of nation's proud capital, Seoulites will soon have a great park in the middle of the city. Yet, there remains some obstacles and hurdles before they realize their dream. The U.S. side demands that the Korean government alone foot the huge bill of relocation expenses.

The local city or central government might be tempted anytime to give up at least part of the land at the urging of the ferocious real estate developers who might rear their ugly head again to encroach upon the "last green space" in the center of this gigantic city.

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Park Jin-Hee, who majored in Political Science & Diplomacy at Konkuk University, serves as a staff reporter for The Seoul Times. She covers foreign communities including USFK (United States Forces Korea) and foreign embassies in Seoul.






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