Spurred on, 1.86 million Koreans assert, 'Dokdo belongs to us!'

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Spurred on, 1.86 million Koreans assert, 'Dokdo belongs to us!'

Dokdo islet has been the subject of a heated debate between Japan and Korea, each side arguing for its sovereignty over the island. As a result of a fisheries agreement in 1999, the area surrounding the island is now a jointly controlled fishing zone with Japan.

A Korean married couple has gathered about 1.86 million signatures in support for keeping the island Korea's.

Yoon Sang-hyun, 71, while planting a rapeseed flower bed in Gumi-si, South Gyeongsang province, incidentally stumbled upon an idea that started it all. As he was shaping the flower bed into the shape of the Korean peninsula, including Dokdo, he began a conversation with his wife about the island.

At the end of the day, he and his wife decided that they should promote the matter and raise greater public awareness about the island. While he started to write letters to governmental organizations and various schools, his son-in- law, Oh Yoon-gil, 47, and daughter, Yoon Mi-kyung, 43, went out into the street to obtain signatures.

Soon, they attached a speaker to their small truck and plastered it with placards as well. While touring major cities like Seoul, Busan, Daegu and Gwangju, they visited government offices and tried to get more signatures. In June, Oh Yoon-gil, who had operated a small electronics shop, closed it down and decided to dedicate his time to this "new business."

"I thought that the Dokdo problem was a very serious one and that is why I decided to temporarily quit my work," Mr. Oh said.

The group's work did not stop there. In January, they went to the city of Shimonoseki in Japan, which has occupied center stage in the Dokdo dispute, to get even more signatures from Koreans there. Although they considered their efforts a worthwhile cause, continuing their work created some obstacles. Mr. Oh had to sell a house that he had bought 14 years ago in order to cover the expenses incurred during their tour.

Along the way, some criticized the group as foolish and accused them of being a group of opportunists who just wanted to capitalize on the issue. Nevertheless, the 1.86 million people who have given their signatures seem to stand behind this group and their patriotic endeavor.

"If I think about the countless number of people that have given their lives to protect this country, my sacrifices are next to nothing," said Mr. Yoon.

His father-in-law, who participated in the Korean War, said that he views the work as the last battle for an old soldier. The collected signatures will be given to a museum devoted to Dokdo, while supporters can show their support at the group's Web site (http://www.o-dokdo.com), which was recently created by a benefactor.

by Hong Gweon-sam

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