Clash brewing at Gangjeong village
By Kim Tae-jong
A regional court has ruled in favor of the government push for the construction of a naval base in a small village on Jeju Island but villagers repeated their vows Tuesday to continue fighting until their demands are met.
Late on Monday, the Jeju District Court ruled that villagers and activists should not obstruct the construction, accepting an injunction filed by the government and the Navy. The ruling is expected to provide fresh leverage for the police to crackdown on the “illegal protest” at Gangjeong Village.
“It is obviously illegal for protestors to intervene in the construction and they should each pay the government or the Navy 2 million in fines very time they violate the decision,” the court said in its ruling.
Four years of opposing the plan will not easily be forgotten by villagers and activists who said it will be an ongoing struggle to get the project canceled. They said they will hold a large-scale, peaceful rally and invite people from outside the island to ratchet up tension.
“We’re so disappointed with the court’s decision. It’s totally unreasonable and makes no sense,” said Hong Ki-ryong, head of the Jeju Human Rights Center. “We will remain protesting, not violently but peacefully, until the plan is abolished.”
The court rejected the request to tear down a “peace camp” the villagers set up on the beach side of the planned construction site to disturb the construction. The court partially turned down the request by the Navy to impose a ban on all disruptive activities including demonstrations by villagers and activists, saying staging a protest is a freedom of expression protected by the Constitution.
It was still a blow to protesters that the court issued arrest warrants for three people, including village leader Kang Dong-gyun, for the violent clash with police, Wednesday.
Following the latest court decision police said they will stop anyone who interrupts the construction.
“We will stop any activities to obstruct the construction even without request from the Navy as the court issued a go-ahead for the project,” an officer from the National Police Agency said. “We will hold any illegal protesters accountable.”
The villagers are organizing a rally, which is expected to bring more than 1,000 people to Gangjeong on Sept. 3. Various cultural events such as musical performances and traditional games will be included, Hong said.
The longstanding dispute began in 2007 when the government designated the small fishing village the site for a naval base.
Villagers and civic groups oppose the plan, arguing the construction will cause environmental problems and harm the nature of the peaceful island. They also argue the government and Navy have pushed ahead with the plan without reaching a consensus with villagers.
Strongly refuting these claims the Navy insists that the naval base will be built in an eco-friendly manner. They also emphasize it will help boost the local economy and bolster coastal defense.
A total of 977 billion won will be spent to construct the 480,000-square-meter base by 2014. Over 130 billion won has been spent already, according to the Navy.