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US to Reposition Troops in S. Korea - 2003-06-05


U.S. troops in South Korea will be moved farther south, away from the tense border with North Korea.

A joint statement says both Seoul and Washington want to the U.S. reposition troops to promote regional stability. The announcement of the troop realignment comes after two days of talks in Seoul between U.S. and South Korean defense officials.

No timetable was given for the plan to move U.S. troops away from the tense Demilitarized Zone for the first time since the end of the Korean War. Hostilities between North and South Korea ceased in 1953, but no peace treaty was ever signed.

Media reports in South Korea say the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division, deployed near the border, will move south of Seoul in two phases. But U.S. troops will continue to train near the DMZ.

The United States military also plans to move its headquarters, now in Seoul, farther south.

U.S. defense officials in recent months made clear their desire to reposition some of the 37,000 troops in South Korea. More than half of the troops are now near the DMZ. That means they are within artillery range of North Korea, meaning that large numbers might be killed or forced to retreat south before launching a counter-offensive in case of an attack by communist troops.

Several military analysts in the past few weeks have said that by moving the infantry troops farther south, the United States and South Korea would be able to more quickly loop around an invasion force and strike into North Korea.

But many South Korean officials have been wary of the change, fearing it signaled a waning U.S. commitment to defend the country against the North.

The U.S. military last week announced it planned to spend $11 billion over the next three years to strengthen its forces in South Korea.

Among the changes would be the deployment of special rapid-response forces.

Tension on the Korean Peninsula has been high for more than seven months, since the United States revealed the existence of a secret North Korean nuclear weapons program. Since then, Pyongyang has on several occasions told U.S. officials it has nuclear weapons, and indicated they are making more, in violation of several international pledges to be nuclear free.

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