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U.S. returns more land from former military base to South Korea

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U.S. returns more land from former military base to South Korea
The United States turned over land from its former military headquarters in central Seoul Friday, as South Korea moves forward with plans to transform the base into a public park. The newly relocated presidential office overlooks the site. Photo by Yonhap

SEOUL, June 3 (UPI) -- The United States transferred land from its former military headquarters in Seoul to South Korea, officials said Friday, boosting long-standing plans to turn the garrison into a public park.

United States Forces Korea handed over 51,000 square meters -- about 12 acres -- from Yongsan Garrison in central Seoul, according to a statement by South Korea's Office for Government Policy Coordination.

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Yongsan was the headquarters of USFK and the United Nations Command from the end of the 1950-53 Korean War until 2018, when both commands relocated to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, around 40 miles south of Seoul. It was initially established as a military base in 1904 by the Japanese during their colonial occupation of Korea and has been off-limits to the public ever since.

South Korea has been eager to develop Yongsan, which sits on a prime location, into a national park in the heart of the capital city.

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Friday's handover follows transfers made in February and May. South Korea has now received around 30% of the garrison's roughly 500 acres, the statement said.

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Redevelopment plans have picked up steam as newly inaugurated South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol moved his presidential office to the former defense ministry headquarters, located right next to the Yongsan site.

On Thursday, South Korea's land ministry announced it would open a section of the future Yongsan park to the public on a trial basis in June, giving ordinary citizens access to the former base for the first time in almost 120 years.

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"This pilot opening is very meaningful for the people in that Yongsan Garrison, which had been a closed space for a long time, will be transformed into an open space with the relocation of the presidential office," Won Hee-ryong, minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, said in a statement.

"We will continue to communicate with the people and actively receive their opinions during the construction project so that they can feel that the Yongsan park finally belongs to them," he said.

The handover is part of the U.S. military's ongoing moves to consolidate its 28,500 troops to garrisons in Pyeongtaek and Daegu, located roughly 200 miles southeast of the capital.

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