By Lee Hyo-sik
A controversy surrounding the naval base to be built on a small fishing village of Jeju Island seemed to be all but over after the court allowed the Navy to resume its construction in early September.
But the recent apprehension of university students and activists who illegally broke into the construction site in Gangjeong Village rekindled the long-standing conflict between those opposing the planned base and the Navy.
On Oct. 2, the Seogwipo Police Station arrested 11 university students on charges of hampering civil services after they climbed over a fence set up around the construction site. Four unionized workers of Hanjin Heavy Industries were also detained on the same charge after they assaulted police officers at the scene.
The following day, all of them were released as police decided to book them without physical detention.
But the Gangjeong Village Union who oppose the construction of the disputed naval base and the Pan-Jeju Committee against the military station on the island claimed that the university students who broke into the construction site were physically abused by Navy personnel.
In a press briefing held at Jeju Special Self-Governing Provincial Council, Tuesday, members of the two organizations said the Navy threatened an activist protesting against the base construction and confiscated his belongings by force.
``Navy personnel also used violence against the university students. All these show that the envisioned naval base has been planned and built by a group of thugs who are not afraid to use violence against those who oppose it,’’ they said in a statement.
They accused politicians and law enforcement authorities of turning a blind eye to a range of wrongdoings committed by the Navy and others undertaking the base construction.
``Soldiers willingly used violence against civilians. The military should launch an investigation into such irregularities and discipline those responsible,’’ it said.
Some of the university students and activists were present at the briefing, insisting that they were beaten by soldiers
Meanwhile, the Seogwipo Police Station said Wednesday that they detained nine priests and one Internet media reporter for illegally entering Gangjeong and holding a protest on Tuesday.
Police said they climbed over a two-meter-high fence and held a placard that reads, ``We strongly oppose the construction of the Naval base’’ for an hour.
Police tried to persuade the demonstrators to voluntarily leave but they refused. Police officers then had to be mobilized to disperse and arrest protesters on charges of breaking laws governing public assembly and obstructing justice.
On Sept. 2, police dispersed and rounded up protesters at Gangjeong, clearing the way for the Navy to resume construction of a base there.
Construction workers erected a 200-meter-long fence to link the already existing steel wall along the 1.6-kilometer perimeter of the site to block protesters from entering and preventing construction.
The longstanding dispute at the small fishing village began in 2007 when the government designated it as the site for a new naval base.
Some residents and civic groups oppose the construction, arguing it will cause environmental problems on the island.
They also argue the government and Navy have pushed ahead with the plan without reaching a consensus with them.
Strongly refuting such claims, the Navy said that the naval base will be built in an eco-friendly manner and help boost the local economy as well as bolster coastal defense.
A total of 977 billion won will be spent to construct the 480,000-square-meter base by 2014 with over 130 billion won spent already, according to the Navy.