Jeju activists get olive branch in Navy base spat

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Jeju activists get olive branch in Navy base spat

President Moon Jae-in on Thursday expressed “deep regret” about the dispute over construction of a naval base on South Korea’s southern resort island of Jeju.

Gangjeong, a small fishing village on the island’s southern coast, was picked as the site for a new naval base in 2007 when Moon was chief of staff to President Roh Moo-hyun.

The project touched off angry protests by village residents and activists, who said the base could both set off a regional arms race and damage the island’s environment. Construction of the base was completed in 2016.

On Thursday, Moon offered “consolation” to residents in Gangjeong as he met them in the village after attending an international fleet review in the waters off Jeju. “There should be procedural and democratic legitimacy even in a matter of national security, but that was not the case here,” Moon said. He also called for efforts to reconcile and heal the wounds of Gangjeong village, noting that the local community had collapsed due to deep divisions over the project.

Last year, the government dropped a lawsuit against residents and activists who obstructed the construction of the naval base; Seoul called the move a decision to promote national unity.

In March 2016, the Navy had filed suit at the Seoul Central District Court to seek damages from 116 individuals and five entities, citing losses of 3.45 billion won ($3 million) in taxpayer money from a delay in the construction work.

Moon also told the residents that he would consider granting pardons and restoring the civil rights of those who were convicted of charges related to the protests. But it is not clear how many, or even if any, people were convicted on such charges.

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