South Korea has received the right to detain American servicemen suspected of rape and murder as part of a revised agreement governing the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed throughout the country.
The new accord, reached Thursday after 11 rounds of talks since 1995, resolves one of the most contentious disputes between the two allies.
Under the old Status of Forces Agreement, signed in 1966 and revised in 1991, American troops accused of a crime were detained in U.S. military custody until convicted in the South Korean judicial system and all appeals were exhausted.
Calling it too lenient and an infringement upon its sovereignty, South Korea sought revisions to the agreement, which governs the legal treatment of U.S. troops stationed there since 1954 as protection against communist North Korean aggression. Activists said the accord discriminated against South Korea compared to similar arrangements the United States has with Japan and Germany.
Under the revised treaty, U.S. soldiers accused of murder, rape, arson, drug trafficking and eight other serious crimes would be turned over to South Korea upon indictment. In murder or rape cases, South Korean police would have the right to arrest and detain U.S. military suspects.
South Korea, in return, promised to protect and strengthen suspects' rights to legal counsel and speedy trial. The new agreement also called for enhanced safeguards for accused U.S. soldiers regarding detention facilities and media exposure, said Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Frederick Smith, who signed the accord with his South Korean counterpart, Song Min-soon.
President Kim Dae-jung urged Washington to take up the treaty as quickly as possible to prevent anti-American activists in Seoul from using the issue to demand that all U.S. forces leave South Korea.
Koreas open economic talks
SEOUL, South Korea _ South Korea and electricity-starved North Korea opened three days of talks in the North's capital Thursday on ways of boosting economic cooperation.
The talks, the first high-level government dialogue between the sides to focus solely on economic matters, came as South Korean officials said Thursday that 307 North Koreans defected to the South this year, more than double the 148 who fled the hunger-stricken Communist state last year.
The North's food shortages are so severe that its own government has admitted that at least 220,000 people have died of hunger since 1995.
In the opening session, North Korea proposed that the first topic should be its earlier request for 500,000 kilowatts of electricity from South Korea, South Korean pool reports said. South Korean officials in Seoul said the meeting is unlikely to reach agreement on the request.