5 demonstrators taken into custody; senior police officer replaced
By Kim Rahn
Tension over the planned construction of a naval base in a Jeju Island village has reached boiling point as police took five protestors of the project into custody.
Some 200 residents of Gangjeong Village in Seogwipo and members of civic and environmental groups held a rally to demand their release Thursday.
The clash comes amid longstanding conflict between the Navy seeking to bolster coastal defense and the villagers preferring peace and environment protection.
The two villagers and three civic activists, including village leader Kang Dong-gyun, were apprehended Wednesday evening for interfering with the duties of the naval authorities. They climbed a crane at the base site at around 2 p.m. as the authorities were preparing to use it to move construction machinery, police said.
Police officers took the activists to Seogwipo Police Station but held the two villagers inside the Navy compound for about eight hours as other protesters strongly resisted, blocking the way to the station.
After the lengthy standoff, the two sides agreed that the two villagers would undergo questioning at the police station and be released before midnight.
But the police didn’t release them at the designated time, and protesters staged an all-night demonstration in front of the police station.
The head of the protesting committee said they will initiate an intense struggle to demand the government scrap the naval base project.
“The Lee Myung-bak administration will face national resistance, if it continues to press ahead with this naval base project,” he said.
Five opposition political parties issued a joint statement Wednesday saying, “The Navy attempted to resume construction to provoke the villagers. Being taken into police custody is the same as the Navy’s order to fire on residents.”
They claimed the Navy’s move will cause a second April 3 Uprising, a protest of Jeju residents against the Syngman Rhee administration in 1948 when the government massacred at least 30,000 Jeju civilians under the name of cracking down on leftists.
Sanctions on officer
In the meantime, National Police Agency Commissioner General Cho Hyun-oh ordered the replacement of Seogwipo station chief Song Yang-hwa for failing to take strong enough action against the protestors.
“Cho was furious that the police force remained unable to act for eight hours during the standoff. He was also upset that Song made a compromise with the protesters, promising to release the suspects that day,” an agency officer said.
The protest started in 2007 after the Navy decided to build a 480,000-square-meter base there by 2014. It plans to build a port that can accommodate 20 warships and two 150,000-ton cruise liners. It would also be used as a commercial dock and a tourist spot.
But residents and civic groups claim the construction will cause environmental problems. They also argue the new base is linked to Korea’s joining the U.S.-led missile defense system and will make Jeju a potential military target for anti-U.S. militants.