Seoul to Toughen Rules on U.S. Military Crimes

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Korea is seeking to have a greater authority to investigate and take custody of U.S. military personnel suspected of having committed felonies, multiple sources said Thursday.

“We are working closely with working-level officials of the U.S. Forces Korea to include the revision as one of the agenda items for the upcoming joint meeting of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), slated for Nov. 23,”an official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT) said Thursday.

The move came amid growing calls for revamping the SOFA agreement that provides legal protection and immunity for U.S. soldiers, following a U.S. soldier’s rape of a teenage Korean girl in September.

Under the current SOFA agreement, the Korean police have rights to keep a U.S. soldier in custody through the trial after arrest for murder or egregious rape.

Additionally, the Korean authorities can request transfer of custody for 12 major crimes, such as rape, kidnapping, arson and drug trafficking, only after a suspected U.S. soldier is indicted.

“If new guidelines are adopted, the U.S. would ‘favorably consider’ handing over suspects accused of the 12 felonies before they are indicted,”another MOFAT official said asking for anonymity.

He said the new guidelines, which the two sides are expected to give due consideration, are similar to those that Washington and Tokyo agreed to after a 1995 rape in Okinawa.

“The two sides have held a series of preliminary meetings in an effort to come up with idea of making improvements in the existing SOFA agreement,” he said. Read more