In the small South Korean rural town Miryang, senior residents are doing all they can to stop the construction of extra-high voltage transmission towers across their land.
The state-owned power provider, Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO) plans to build dozens of 765-kilovolt transmission towers [ko] across Miryang that would affect 30 villages and 1,800 households. Opposition is fierce. Most of the town's population, elderly farmers in their 60s and 70s, have resisted for over eight years now, citing health risks and expressing their strong attachment to their lands where they have lived for decades.
The fight made national headlines around January 2012 when a 74-year-old man set himself on fire in protest. A series of dramatic demonstrations have flipped public opinion toward the residents, and KEPCO temporarily halted the project on March 2013.
After 126 days of hiatus, the construction resumed [ko] on October 2, 2013 and protests have erupted, both at the construction site and in front of the KEPCO building in Seoul. Five people were detained after having minor physical clashes [ko] with police.
KEPCO seemed to back off a little. However, they sued or applied injunctions against 15 residents, who are either farmers or unemployed, for hindering their construction. And despite KEPCO's claim that they had reached an agreement with 15 villages, the opposition issued a statement denying anything of the sort, stressing that residents aren't interested in monetary compensation. One local media outlet even reported that KEPCO had an internal research document [ko] admitting the high voltage transmission tower can be a serious health hazard to the residents in the affected area.
Environmental and civic groups have joined the senior citizen's uphill battle. Facebook page Stand with Miryang, Stop the 765kv Towers shared photos of recent protests (below) and citizens holding signs in support of Miryang's struggle. (above).
Net users expressed shock at the government's decision to use police force against the elderly farmers. About 2,000 riot police agents were deployed [ko] to the site (initially, 3,000 were expected [ko] to be dispatched):
최악의 불상사 우려되는 밀양 송전탑 공사 http://t.co/Z3ZjWSTFNZ 주민들은 대부분 나이 많고 힘없는 노인들이다. 수천명의 경찰을 동원해 이들을 몰아내고 공사를 강행하겠다는 건 전쟁 상황에서도 상상하기 힘든 일이다.
— 들풀 #시국선언 (@wow815) September 29, 2013
Worries of the worst case scenario looms over the Miryang tower construction (site). Residents are mostly old, helpless elderly people. They want to forge ahead with the construction by kicking away these people with several thousand police agents! Such action is something unimaginable even in a war-time situation.
@MyoungrrangAndy: [...]밀양에 경찰병력이 계속 늘어가고 있답니다. 주민의사 무시하는 공사 강행은 명백한 폭력입니다.
@MyoungrrangAndy[...] I've heard the number of police forces in Miryang keeps increasing. Pushing ahead with the construction against the resident's wishes is clearly an act of violence.
As violent clashes seem inevitable, many recalled the Yongsan disaster four years ago, in which six people were killed in an accidental fire started while police attempted to break-up a sit-in of evicted residents in a building in Seoul:
밀양 송전탑 공사 재개를 앞두고 송전탑 건설 현장에 10월 2일쯤 경찰 기동대 34개 중대 3000여 명을 투입하기로 했다고…어르신 몇 분에 3000명? 용산참사의 비극을 벌써 잊었는가? http://t.co/mm4AG77oDf
— 불꽃, 정중규 (@bulkoturi) September 28, 2013
As day of resumed construction on the Miryang transmission tower draws near, they have decided to deploy 3,000 riot police agents (34 squads) to the site on October 2… 3,000 police against a few elderly citizens? Have they already forgotten about the Yongsan disaster?
밀양 송전탑 사태, 국가는 공익목적이라는 이유로 주민의 삶을 파괴해서는 안된다. 공익에 꼭 필요하다면 주민을 설득하고 삶의 대책을 반드시 마련해준 뒤에 시행해야 한다. 아무 대책마련도 없이 공익만 들이대면 된다는 후진적 사고가 용산사태를 불렀다.
— 강려(江廬) (@Riverside_hut) September 30, 2013
The Miryang Transmission Tower crisis shows that the government has no right to ruin individual lives for the sake of the public interest. If it is something really necessary for the public interest, they need to persuade the [affected] residents and must provide them with alternative options. This moronic idea of forging ahead claiming it benefits the greater public good without making any preparations is what led to the Yongsan disaster.
밀양 송전탑 사태의 평화로운 해결을 바랍니다. 부디.
— jiyouuu (@jiyouuu) September 30, 2013
I really hope for a peaceful resolution to the Miryang transmission tower crisis.