In July, news of the US-encouraged South Korean plan for a large strategic naval base on Jeju to berth Aegis warships was initially gleaned from Jenny Maxwell’s WMCND newsletter. This development would threaten the environment of this island, designated by UNESCO as a Global Geopark, and also the agricultural livelihoods of the islanders in that area.
Jeju has a history of invasion, repression and victimisation; in the 1950s the islanders rose up in protest at the decision to divide the Korean nation. The ‘sasam’ movement was born in the 1980s, seeking truth, reconciliation & healing. A Peace Forum was established in 2001 and has organised six conferences to regional security. In 2005 central government declared Jeju an Island of Peace and a Peace Park was set up in 2008.
The Chamber of Victims [1948-1950] Jeju Peace Park
Jenny writes in the latest issue of the newsletter hoping that the protests of the local people are being heeded, but several September reports indicate that their island is not yet free from this threat.
Five protesters, including the villagers’ representative Kang Dong-kyun, were taken to the police station for questioning last Wednesday after attempting to block construction work at this once peaceful fishing port. Kang has pledged to stop the protests if 51% or more of Gangjeong villagers approve of the base in a referendum.
On Monday, the Jeju District Court accepted the petition by the government and the Navy for a provisional disposition against villagers and civic activists who impeded the construction, but dismissed the petition for prohibition of all acts in hindrance to the construction, saying it would infringe on the constitutional right to freedom of expression.
“Peace buses” continue to carry protesters into the village, with more to arrive on a chartered flight dubbed the “peace airplane”. Rebecca Johnson, director of the UK’s Acronym Institute, has joined the protestors on occasion.
Proponents of the base’s construction emphasise that it will shorten the time for Korean naval ships to reach southern sea spots when maritime disputes with China or Japan occur. They predict economic benefits to the islanders.
A moving video account
Negative views of the naval base spread nationwide after a moving independent documentary on the villagers’ struggle was produced earlier this year. It can be seen here.
The Korean Herald reports that calls are mounting for a referendum on the issue.