Opposition lawmakers seeking ban on imports of anthrax and other deadly materials

Posted on : 2016-09-20 16:33 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
If legislation passes the National Assembly, US Forces Korea would no longer be allowed to import dangerous biological agents
Site of a planned USFK biochemical testing facility
Site of a planned USFK biochemical testing facility

Legislation has been submitted to the National Assembly to ban the import of anthrax bacteria and other organisms used in deadly weapons.

Park Jae-ho, a Minjoo Party of Korea lawmaker for Busan’s Nam-B district, announced on Sep. 19 that he and 43 other lawmakers had “presented two legislative amendments to the National Assembly that would ban imports of anthrax and other biological agents that are lethal to the human body, live or dead.”

The laws proposed for amendment are the Act on the Control of the Manufacture, Export and Import, etc. of Specific Chemicals and Chemical Agents for the Prohibition of Chemical and Biological Weapons (the Biological and Chemical Weapons Prohibition Act) and the Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Act.

The amendments would prohibit foreign armed forces stationed in South Korea from bringing in biological agents such as anthrax not only when live but also when killed or sterilized. Currently, live biological agents can be brought into South Korea upon approval by the Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy, while dead or sterilized inactive agents can be imported without any permission procedures. This loophole is what allowed US Forces Korea to bring dead anthrax bacteria onto its Yongsan and Osan bases for experimentation 16 times between 2009 and last year.

The amendments would also make biological agents like anthrax an exception to the terms of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between South Korea and the US. Article 9 of SOFA states that USFK’s military freight does not need to pass through customs inspection when entering South Korea.

In Apr. 2015, the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center in Maryland sent one-milliliter samples of dead anthrax and plague bacteria to USFK’s Osan base for testing. The samples were used for USFK’s JUPITR program to prepare against the threat of North Korea’s biological weapons. It eventually emerged that no customs screening had taken place in the process.

If the amendments do pass the National Assembly’s regular session, the USFK would be unable to bring anthrax or similar agents into South Korea for military purposes. As part of its JUPITR program, USFK is planning to set up biological and chemical weapon detection and warning facilities at eight piers in the port of Busan - near the city‘s downtown area - through November of this year. Busan-area civic groups are opposing the move, citing concerns about possible casualties from a leakage of anthrax or other agents.

By Kim Kwang-soo, Busan correspondent

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

Related stories