[EDITORIALS]Stop protests at U.S. basesA violent demonstration was staged Sunday at the gate of a U.S. Air Force base in Gwangju by the Gwangju and South Jeolla Province Committee for the Closure of Patriot Missile Bases and the Withdrawal of U.S. Forces From Korea. Some 3,000 people joined in the rally, including civic group members and students from Hanchongryun, the leftist student organization. They tried to make their way onto the base by tearing down barbed-wire fencing.
But police on the scene didn’t arrest them. Apparently, they neglected their duty. In August 2003, about 10 Hanchongryun students made their way onto the U.S. 8th Army firing range in Pocheon, Gyeonggi province, and occupied an armored vehicle. Something similiar could have happened Sunday. As the police are said to have taken pictures at the protest and collected evidence of lawbreaking, they must arrest the ringleaders and hold them accountable. If the police take a lukewarm attitude toward the destruction of military facilities and trespassing on areas declared off-limits, the misunderstanding could arise that they tacitly approved of the demonstration.
The protesters demanded the shutdown of U.S. missile bases and the withdrawal of U.S. forces. In fact, due to the current administration’s initiatives, a partial withdrawal and realignment of U.S. forces here is underway. Unlike in 2003, there is a degree of public consensus about the presence of U.S. forces here. It is therefore hard to understand why the demonstrators are trying to raise the issue again. Shouting at U.S. troops, who are partially responsible for our nation’s security, to leave the country amounts to cooperating with North Korea. Particularly now, when the nuclear crisis has made national security the South Korean people’s utmost concern, we cannot but question what country these demonstrators belong to when we hear them take such a starkly different position.
Hanchongryun has proposed making 2005 the first year with no U.S. forces on the Korean Peninsula, and has designated the first two weeks in June “anti-American and anti-war weeks,” urging students to join them. Frequent demonstrations at U.S. military facilities are expected. Hanchongryun, which was deemed a pro-North Korean organization by the courts, should be barred from further radical activities. We should remember the U.S. defense secretary’s statement that U.S. forces will leave if a host country wants them to.