Resisting US war plans on Jeju Island

IssueMay 2012
Feature by Angie Zelter

Bora, 31 years old, had her arms severely bruised when police battered her plastic arm-lock with hammers; Dr Song, 54 years old, had three teeth broken by police; 75-year-old Father Mun was pushed off a large concrete tetra-pod by a coastal guard resulting in four broken vertebrae.

These are just three recent examples of the human rights abuses perpetrated by the South Korean authorities who are brutally enforcing the construction of a naval base in Gangjeong on Jeju Island.

The protests have been sustained for five years but now that the blasting of the sacred Gureombi rock has begun and the fresh water springs that supply the southern half of the island are being polluted, the protests have gathered momentum and state violence has increased.

The naval base is being built on prime agricultural land, and is ruining UNESCO World Heritage sites meant to protect the soft corals and endangered species recognised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Encircling China

The naval base is not for the defence of South Korea (whose primary threat is from the North) but is for the use of the US military who would use it for their aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines and Aegis warships that are part of an anti-ballistic missile defence system, all aimed at China.

The last time a military base was located on Jeju Island, in 1948, more than 30,000 people were killed by the South Korean government under US military rule, 84 villages were razed to the ground and a scorched-earth policy left thousands more refugees.

It was not until 2006 that the late president Roh Moo-Hyun officially apologized for the massacre and designated Jeju an ‘Island of World Peace’. You can imagine how terrible the sense of betrayal was when when only two years later he agreed to build a naval base on Jeju.

In a recent vote, 94% of all villagers opposed the military base.

The Lee Myung-Bak government is enforcing ‘destruction’ as fast as possible and over 400 people have been arrested since January 2010 with the number rising rapidly since the blasting of Gureombi rock began on 7 March.

Resistance continues

The resistance of the farmers and fisherfolk of the village has been remarkable - press conferences, lobbying of the island council and central government, peaceful demonstrations, religious services.

Despite the police harassment; assaults; bribery which has divided their community; illegal measures that have taken away their ancient rights to pray at their sacred rocks and to use the local public port; arrests, imprisonments and fines, local people continue daily blockades at the two entrances into the ‘destruction’ site along with the breaking down of fences, cutting through razor wire, and taking boats and kayaks over the sea to gain access to the sacred rock.

The government is now preventing the entry into Jeju of any ‘known’ peace activists, making our solidarity actions outside Korean embassies all the more important.

Topics: Anti-militarism