The US has officially agreed to return 12 military sites in South Korea amid concerns that further delays may hinder regional development efforts.

The handover was confirmed after officials from the two sides participated in the 201st Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) Joint Committee virtual meeting.

According to a Reuters report, the 12 sites, which include some in central Seoul, were among 80 locations that US Forces Korea (USFK) agreed to return in 2002. However, the handover faced several delays due to disagreements between the two sides.

The US and South Korea are still yet to finalise remediation responsibilities concerning the returned sites while discussion on clean-up costs are set to continue.

The Environmental Subcommittee will continue discussions to devise contamination management criteria, set joint contamination survey procedures, and improve reporting procedures.

In the meeting, the two sides agreed to bolster their partnership and ensure a stable stationing environment for the US armed forces.

The representatives also agreed to work together in balancing the need for USFK and Republic of Korea (ROK) forces to maintain a high level of readiness to tackle regional threats.

The next Joint Committee meeting will be held at a mutually convenient time next year.

Notably, US forces have maintained a presence in South Korea since the 1950-53 Korean War.

Earlier this month, it was reported that South Korea plans to trial suicide unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and offensive drones next year.

As part of the plan, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration of the country signed contracts with companies to procure three types of drones.