Stopping outside agitatorsThe government finally mobilized police to break up a three-month sit-in at the construction site of a naval base in Gangjeong Village on Jeju Island. Police raided the construction site to disperse the group and detained 38 protesters. They also erected steel fences around the site to keep away protesters. The raid took place upon an order from a Jeju court, which banned the blockade and disruption of construction.
The naval base project, which was approved in June 2007, has been stalled for more than four years due to opposition and protests from some residents and activists. It ceased after activist groups flew to the island to join the blockade. A quarter of the base should have been completed by the end of the year, but protests have slowed it down to just 14 percent.
Even with the police break up, it remains unclear if the project can finally pick up. A large rally has been scheduled over the weekend with more than a thousand activists and sympathy group members planning various events to protest creating a military base on the scenic island. Activists will fly in on the so-called “peace” plane and arrive at Gangjeong Village on “peace” buses. Even as they promise to hold a “peaceful” rally, the scene may turn violent following the police raid. They might clash with riot police stationed at the construction site and the rally base. Some activists are provoking Jeju residents, reminding them of their tragic past by calling the police from Seoul “constabulary forces,” referring to the brutal 1948 massacre of antigovernment residents.
The base project was decided by the government for the country’s national security and defense. It passed a residential referendum as well as a court ruling. Compensation for the land and for losses incurred by the fishing industry has already been paid to the residents. The project suddenly flopped after outside activists campaigned against it by exaggerating its impact on peace and the environment. Some 123 groups have joined a Pan-national action group against the Jeju naval base construction. The leading group - Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of Korea - is famous for spearheading protests against the move of an American military base to Pyeongtaek and against Korea-U.S. joint military drills.
We can no longer allow major state projects to become hostage to ideological causes. But residents’ voices should be heard. The government must re-explain the purpose of the project and hear out residents’ concerns. At any rate, outside forces should stop meddling.