Why are int’l activists joining naval base protest?
By Kang Hyun-kyung
Three American activists were denied entry to Jeju Island, Thursday, days after two international activists, including a Nobel Peace Prize-nominee, were detained after trying to break into the construction site of a naval base.
The three from the U.S. Veterans for Peace, whose names were not revealed, were trying to go to Gangjeong Village where the 450,000 square-meter naval base is being built, according to Canadian activist Catherine Christie.
Christie, also a minister and consultant of The National Council of Churches in Korea, told The Korea Times that many of the international participants in the protest are anti-nuclear and anti-military activists.
She said some of them are part of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space which has hosted international conferences on Jeju.
These international activists believe the Jeju base, if completed, will only serve the best interests of the United States as its military seeks a strong presence in East Asia to counter China. They are concerned about possible mounting U.S.-China rivalry in the region.
Three different groups, including the international pro-peace and anti-military activists, are involved in the anti-naval base campaign with different motivation.
Residents of Gangjeong Village claim a procedural flaw, saying there was no hearing where all of them were invited to express their opinions before the government pushed for the project to commence. The Ministry of National Defense denies this.
Liberal and progressive political parties are playing the anti-base card as the April National Assembly elections are fast approaching.
Angie Zelter, who was detained, was one of the participants in the latest international conference hosted by the global network in February.
The 61-year-old British activist, who was nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, stayed there until she was detained for her role in the protest.
Zelter illegally entered the Gureombi rock plateau, a lava formation formed millions of years ago, where the naval base construction is underway, through the seawall from Gangjeong’s port, Monday.
“Angie is an activist and has been involved in many protests in foreign countries before. So she would have not been surprised by the detension,” Christie said. “But the other one (Benjamin Monnet) is sad, because he had been in Gangjeong Village for nine months after the film festival there last year.”
Monnet, 33, a French activist, was detained, along with Zelter, Wednesday for illegally entering the site.
Gangjeong goes global
Christie said some like-minded religious people have teamed up to join the anti-naval base campaign under the name of International Interfaith Solidarity.
She said she had no idea about how many international activists have joined the rally though, denying media reports that some 20 international protestors are joining the campaign. Christie said she didn’t know where that number came from.
“We see the military base there, the destruction of the environment and the changing of the village into a naval base. People are dislocated. We see these are against God’s will,” she said. “The government didn’t give the Gangjeong residents the opportunity to decide on the base plan.”
Last year, her organization was called upon by a group of international activists opposing a military base in Okinawa to join the anti-naval base plan in Jeju.
Christie said she didn’t participate in the protest in person.
“(During the international conference last month), I didn’t go to the Gureombi rock, but most of the participants including Zelter did,” she said. “They kayaked there (to enter the construction site). I saw they were arrested. So I phoned a lawyer from the Lawyers for a Democratic Society to meet at the police station.”
She characterized her role as an observer and communicator responsible for helping the international community be aware of the “negative fallout” of the Jeju base.
Christie wrote numerous letters calling for the suspension of the naval base construction to President Lee Myung-bak and Woo Keun-min, governor of Jeju Island.
Neither of them have responded to her.
The Canadian minister is also keeping partner churches around the world posted on what’s happening in Jeju.
In late March, Christian denominations will gather in Washington, D.C., to meet with senators and representatives as part of Ecumenical Advocacy day. The Gangjeong naval base issue will be on the agenda, along with the U.S. defense strategy to let its military have strong presence in East Asia.
The Christian activists oppose the stationing of U.S. troops in countries like South Korea, Japan and Germany, saying the conflicts that took the military to those countries have ended.