(LEAD) Gov’t postpones planned opening of Yongsan Park site near presidential office

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(ATTN: ADDS USFK base decontamination issue in last 3 paragraphs)

SEOUL, May 20 (Yonhap) — The Lands Ministry on Friday announced its decision to postpone plans to temporarily open part of the site to the public for a planned national park near the presidential office in central Seoul, citing a lack of preparation.

On Thursday, the ministry said it would open part of Seoul’s Yongsan Garrison site, including the south side of the recently relocated presidential office and sports grounds north of the National Museum of Korea, for 13 days from May 25, and organize various events.

“We have decided to postpone the plan as inconvenience to visitors is expected due to lack of preparation, such as convenient facilities,” the ministry said in a statement. “We will hold the opening event after completing the preparations to help people enjoy the park more comfortably.”

The US military is in the process of returning the site to the South Korean government after moving the headquarters of US Forces Korea (USFK) to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul, and the government is working to transform it into a large national park, named Yongsan Park.

The ministry said earlier that the planned opening aims to engage people in the process of transforming the long-banned Yongsan base into an open space and better reflect people’s views on the project.

The new Yoon Suk-yeol government has moved the presidential office from Cheong Wa Dae near the Gwanghwamun area to the Ministry of Defense compound in Yongsan district in a bid to get out of a ‘symbol of imperial power’ and get closer to the people.

The opposition Democratic Party and environmental groups have criticized the government for the opening decision, saying the site used by USFK is contaminated and that “rushed opening” would pose public health risks.

But the ministry said the postponement decision had nothing to do with environmental issues and that the planned visits would do no harm to the public, as visitors are only supposed to stay at the site for around two hours under its plan. .

Seoul and Washington held consultations on joint contamination investigation procedures, contamination management criteria and other related issues.

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