SEOUL: The United States formally ended seven decades of military presence in South Korea’s capital on Friday with a ceremony to mark the opening of a new headquarters farther from North Korean artillery range.

The command’s move to Camp Humphreys, about 70 kilometres south of Seoul, comes amid a fledgling detente on the Korean Peninsula, though the relocation was planned long before that. Most troops have already transferred to the new location, and the US says the remaining ones will move by the end of this year.

The US military had been headquartered in Seoul’s central Yongsan neighbourhood since American troops first arrived at the end of World War II. The Yongsan Garrison was a symbol of the US-South Korea alliance but its occupation of prime real estate was also a long-running source of friction.

Located in the western port city of Pyeongtaek and close to a US air field, the new 3,510-acre (1,420-hectare) command cost $11 billion to build and is the largest overseas US base. South Korea has paid about 90 per cent of the cost.

“This headquarters’ building, within the headquarters’ complex that surrounds it, represents the significant investment in the long-term presence of US forces in Korea,” Gen. Vincent Brooks, the commander of US Forces Korea, said during the opening ceremony. “US Forces Korea will remain the living proof of the American commitment to the alliance.”

In a message read out at the ceremony by an aide, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said that the headquarters is the cornerstone of the US-South Korea alliance.

“In opening a new era of the US forces headquarters in Pyeongtaek, I hope that the US-South Korea alliance will develop beyond a ‘military alliance’ and a ‘comprehensive alliance’ and become a ‘great alliance,’” Moon said in the statement.

Published in Dawn, June 30th, 2018