Tensions mount on Jeju base site

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Tensions mount on Jeju base site

Tensions escalated in Gangjeong Village on Jeju Island yesterday, where about 60 protestors demanding that the government scrap its plan to build a naval base there scuffled with some 200 riot police on the base construction site.

Police arrested a civil rights activist after the conflict, and a female demonstrator fainted during a physical confrontation with police.

In December 2007, the National Assembly passed a bill to launch a naval base on about 530,000 square meters (53 hectares) of land near Gangjeong Port at a cost of 17.4 billion won ($16 million). The Ministry of National Defense and Jeju provincial government signed a memorandum of understanding on the project in April 2009.

The project was part of efforts to strengthen national security in Korea’s South Sea, especially near Ioe Island, southwest of Jeju Island, which many experts say is strategically important for Korea, Japan and China.

The government paid compensation to all 169 residents who own land on the construction site in July 2010. First, 65 people who said they supported the project received compensation from the Navy, about 30 billion won in total, and then the Navy gave about 20.7 billion won in compensation to the local court for those who are opposed to the project or unsatisfied with the compensation amount. All of the members of the latter group have since accepted compensation from the court. But some residents and civic activists have continued to demonstrate against the base, suspending construction since June.

“I can’t understand why village residents are protesting the project, because all of the interested parties have received compensation,” a Navy official told the JoongAng Sunday.

A village resident told the JoongAng Sunday on condition of anonymity, “Honestly, the compensation [for each resident] was sufficient.”

The Navy said it will pay additional compensation to the construction site owners, about 40 billion won, when construction resumes. Only 14 percent of construction is complete.

Demonstrators say that the base will become part of the U.S. missile defense system, which could harm diplomatic relations with China and create tensions on the peaceful island.

“We are not against the idea of strengthening national security,” Gang Dong-gyun, the head of Gangjeong Village, told the JoongAng Sunday on July 28. “But we don’t think there will be any military conflicts off Jeju Island [that would warrant a base]. We want to live quietly on our peaceful island. I don’t understand why Gangjeong is the place for the military base, instead of other ports on the mainland.”

Environmentalists say the base will destroy the natural habitats of endangered species such as crabs or amphibians living in waters near the village. The military is moving crabs into a nearby stream, but said they haven’t yet found any rare amphibians.

Protesters are still occupying the site, which became the property of the state in July 2010 when all of the compensation was paid.

Ko Chang-hu, the mayor of Seogwipo and a former lawyer who used to be against the base, released a statement in favor of it on July 29.

“I have resisted the government’s demand since last August,” Ko said in the statement. “But I can’t delay the decision [to build the base] any longer .?.?. Dear Gangjeong residents, I apologize for failing to protect [the village]. But sending troops into the village is unforgivable.”

By Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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