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South Korea: Protest Against Start of Jeju Naval Base Construction

Villagers from Gangjeong, South Korea, have been protesting against the construction of a naval base on Jeju Island for several years. As the military project would impact the ecosystem of a UNESCO's World Heritage sites, 94% of Jeju residents have voted against the base in a referendum.

Nevertheless, the South Korean government has insisted on carrying out the project. On March 7, 2012, the South Korean navy together with the construction company Samsung Corporation, started blasting out rock foundations in the coastline. By the next day, hundreds of activists had arrived on the island to stop the navy from blowing up the coastline further for the construction of the docks. Many have been arrested.

Below is a campaign video showing the how the naval construction would destroy the island coastline and the peaceful protest of villagers and activists:

National Campaign to End the Korean War explains the situation on March 7 on Facebook:

Activists attempt to stop the blasting of coastline in Jeju. By National Campaign to End the Korean War on Facebook.

Activists attempt to stop the blasting of coastline in Jeju. By National Campaign to End the Korean War on Facebook.

Despite an official appeal from Jeju Governor Woo to the South Korean Navy to halt the blast of the sacred Gureombi volcanic coastline on Jeju Island, the Navy and Samsung Corporation have proceeded to detonate 800 kilograms of explosives near the seashore. The blasting is estimated to last for five months using 43 tons of explosives.

Local analysts point out that President Lee Myungbak’s rash behavior stems from concerns that construction of the naval base could be placed in permanent jeopardy if the ruling party loses its parliamentary majority in April's general election. However, such a move has outraged many ordinary citizens.

On Save Jeju's Facebook page, Jeju citizens and activists keep updating on the confrontation. About 20 activists have entered Gurombee rock, breaking the perimeter fence with stones. The latest update on March 9 came from Su Lee:

Dennis from California and 9 more activists from another countries were arrested including 5 villagers in Jeju.

Imok Cha described what he witnessed on March 7:

Police line. By Imok Cha on Facebook.

Police line. By Imok Cha on Facebook.

Gangjung completely blocked by 3 layers of police force. The blast will take place within hours, estimated to be around noon, that is in two hrs. The permission to use the explosive is good for 5 months. The blast will take place in several stages. 8 ton will be used near the gate and 35 tons at more west location. They have completed drilling 4.5 m depth hole into Gurumbi for this blast. WHY does it have to come to this!!!

Haein Lee was very frustrated:

This project is total nonsense! Why should we do things that cannot be restored ever and we will definitely regret about! Please stop!

Sung Hee Myoung stressed:

It's like losing a precious part of the world.
We must care about this issue. It's not just a backyard problem of your nextdoor, it's the matter of an island on earth!

Erin Kang pointed out the absurdity of the government action at the eve of the World Conservation Congress in Jeju:

In September 2012, Jeju is hosting the World Conservation Congress, which is totally ridiculous in light of what is happening in Gangjeong right now. The organizers of the event and news agencies should be aware of this hypocrisy. Please send an email to the organizers and alert the media. We need to find any way possible to get more people talking about the atrocities taking place in Gangjeong.

In addition to environmental concerns, international peace movement activists believe that the construction is part of the regional military strategy to surround China, which would drag Jeju residents to the frontline of regional tension. As explained in the Save Jeju Island — No Naval Base petition:

Since plans for the naval base were announced five years ago, 95% of Jeju residents have voted against the base and used every possible democratic means to block its construction. Yet their protests have fallen on deaf ears in your government.

We share the residents’ outrage that the South Korean government is willing to sacrifice the safety of the island residents in order to build this U.S. missile defense outpost as part of a provocative strategy to surround China. Jeju residents refute the claim that this naval base will improve the Korean peoples’ security; they know it will further destabilize the Asia-Pacific region and make the island a prime target for military retaliation.

In response to the situation, peace activists from all over the world have travelled to the island and urging more international support for the local struggle. Imok Cha translated the report from pressian.com:

Angie Zelter, Nobel Peace prize candidate, will stay at Gangjung for 2 more weeks. Yesterday, she went toward the Gurumbi coast and fell in the water. She says more international peace keepers are needed now. She was shocked by Government's blatant lies about the environment and moved by the villagers’ fight to keep their nature.

Bruce Gagnon, who has been in the frontline of the Jeju protest explains the significance of international involvement in his blog:

Sending international peace workers to Jeju Island at this time signals to everyone involved that the global peace movement clearly understands the strategic nature of this local struggle. Obama's announced “pivot” toward the Asia-Pacific means a virtual doubling of U.S. military operations in that region – thus the Navy needs more ports-of-call near China's coast. In this case Gangjeong village is only 300 miles away.

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