Gov’t drops suit against Jeju protesters

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Gov’t drops suit against Jeju protesters

The government said Tuesday it would drop an indemnity suit seeking nearly 3.5 billion won ($3.2 million) in compensation from Jeju islanders and activists after the Korean Navy sued them last March for delaying the construction of a naval base by protesting.

The Ministry of National Defense said the decision was made in a cabinet meeting presided over by Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon, based on the thought that pushing through the legal case will only trigger social “division and friction.”

It also said the government respected the Seoul Central District Court’s opinion, which late last month suggested that both the plaintiff and defendant drop all their lawsuits against each other.

The indemnity suit, which sought 3.45 billion won from a total of 116 people and five civic groups, will automatically be dropped if the accused accept the court’s opinion.

President Moon Jae-in had promised during his campaign to drop the lawsuit and pardon everyone who was indicted. Nestled on the southern coast of Jeju Island, Gangjeong Village has been at odds with local authorities since June 2007, when then-President Roh Moo-hyun relayed plans to build a major naval base there.

Gangjeong villagers and left-leaning civic groups descended on the construction site to block progress, leaving the government to pay Samsung C&T Corporation, one of several companies contracted to build the base, 27.5 billion won in losses through tax money. The Korean Navy sued the protesters last March 28, after Park Geun-hye was impeached and before Moon was elected, accusing them of causing 3.45 billion won in damages over 125 days.

Construction on the Jeju Naval Base began in January 2010, but it wasn’t until February 2016 that the complex was completed, nearly 14 months past the original deadline.

With no clear-cut plan for how the government will make up for the 3.45 billion won it already paid to Samsung through state coffers, local critics are now castigating the administration for giving in, and predict it will eventually waste even more tax money when other contracted companies ask for compensation, too.

A government official said that a “solution” to the case will be devised but refused to give any details.

Among 116 people accused of obstructing construction for the naval base, only 31 were Gangjeong villagers. The five civic groups that led the protests were on the front lines opposing U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to Seoul last November, and the installation of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system in Seongju County, North Gyeongsang.

Rep. Choung Tae-ok, spokesman of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, chastised the Moon administration for letting illegal protesters get away with inflicting costs to state coffers. Seo Jung-wook, an attorney at the law firm Min Ju, who often appears as a commentator for local news channels, said the government was “neglecting its duty.”

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