Hurried Maehyang-ri Investigation Arouses Suspicions

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Hurried Maehyang-ri Investigation Arouses Suspicions

The conclusion of the Korea-U.S. joint investigation into the extent of damage to residents near the U.S. Maehyang-ri bombing range is a disappointing climax to many people who had paid close attention to the story, as well as to Maehyang-ri residents. Even if the U.S. is not actively involved in the process of investigation, our government, especially the Ministry of National Defense, seems to be taking the issue lightly.

The outcome of the investigation can be summarized into two phrases: "There was no direct damage at all," and "If residents apply for damage compensation in the future, it would be processed following the appropriate legal procedures." However, the problems in Maehyang-ri that have accumulated for about a half century, will not be resolved with these statements. As a participant of the investigation pointed out, a problem with the investigation was the short amount of time the two sides had to sift through 3,459 damage claims - they only had 10 days. It’s difficult to avoid criticism when the investigation was nothing more than a passing measure.

However it should be noted that the Ministry of National Defense and the U.S. military must consider variables which are unseen to the public. The isolated location of Maehyang-ri makes it an ideal site for use by the military. Moreover, the same level of opposition from residents can be expected if the U.S. does decide to move the base to another area. There are also complicated circumstances in the past, when Maehyang-ri residents agreed to move to safe areas, but failed to comply after some residents opposed the plan in 1997.

From a military standpoint, some citizens' groups are pressing change in matters of national security. However, the problem will only worsen if the government tries to conclude the investigation with their latest attempt. The problem in Maehyang-ri is an issue that must be resolved in terms of national security, as well as citizens’ rights for a safe living environment.

The 'proper legal procedure,' suggested by the Ministry of National Defense, as a plan for the future, was suggested by the council responsible for estimating the amount of compensation designated by SOFA. A Suwon district council to estimate compensation for Maehyang-ri claims only recognized the legitimacy of one case in 1967, when the U.S. military accidentally dropped a bomb in the area and one resident was killed and another injured. Considering this, it’s extremely questionable whether the residents can trust the decision made by the council. The announcement that the court’s decision would be binding in this case can be seen as the government’s attempt to put the onus on the residents, and also to give up.

The Maehyang-ri incident eloquently speaks of the fact that problems related to U.S. military bases must be evaluated in multi-dimensional point of views, including rights of living, environmental and the protection of private property, surpassing the simple level of national security. Therefore, government authorities, not only the Ministry of National Defense, must step up to grasp the detailed status of direct and indirect damages, and to rush to plan fundamental countermeasures: whether to move the residents or the bombing range. Furthermore, it is important to establish a proper countermeasure plan for the impact of numerous military training facilities, not only for the U.S. military bombing range. As we see it, the government’s intention is the most important factor to resolve the Maehyang-ri incident. If government announces only a few numbers to roughly conclude the problem, distrust and confusion will be the result.

by Kim Si-rae

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