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Police crack down on peaceful resistance to Jeju Island naval base construction
The South Korean government has ramped up its aggression in response to a tiny fishing village's peaceful resistance to the construction of a naval base there. This follows growing global attention to the residents’ cause.
Since base plans were announced five years ago, Jeju residents have used every democratic means to block its construction, including filing a lawsuit against ROK Defense Minister and holding a recall vote to oust a local governor who had consented to the plan. The hugely unpopular project has caused 95% of the island's population to vote against it.
The recent South Korean aggression is in response to growing global attention to the residents’ cause, including a letter of support from American feminist and political activist Gloria Steinem, and the launch of an English-language website and online petition supported by over 100 peace and religious groups worldwide.
"If we stop this naval base, it will be contagious for peace, the environment, and democracy," wrote Steinem, urging others to sign the petition. "Jeju Island means Women’s Island. It stands for an ancient balance. We must save it from the cult of militarism that endangers us all, women and men."
The 400,000 square meter base will be home to a new fleet of destroyers equipped with advanced Aegis ballistic missile defense systems. Many military analysts believe that the Jeju Island naval base will serve as part of the U.S. military’s sea-based ballistic missile defense system. This same technology is also a proven anti-satellite weapon.
Located strategically in the Korea Strait, the island’s potential to become a military target in the event of an armed conflict will increase exponentially with this naval base, says military analyst Matthew Hoey of the Cambridge-based Military Space Transparency Project. "The Aegis missile defense system on Jeju Island is part of a much larger ballistic missile defense network overseen by the U.S. military,” said Hoey. “This system has already or will soon be provided to India, Japan, Australia and South Korea, and risks forcing the hand of China’s military to shore up its nuclear deterrent.”
The ROK Navy expects to complete construction of the base on Jeju in 2014. Officials say the base, which would accommodate more than 20 warships, submarines, and other naval vessels will cost about 800-billion-
Jeju, also known as “honeymoon island,” attracts many tourists for its high biological diversity, and unique volcanic topography. The proposed military facility is in the pristine fishing village of Gangjeong, which is surrounded by three UNESCO sites. "The site, of outstanding aesthetic beauty, also bears testimony to the history of the planet, its features and processes," UNESCO wrote. Jeju is a finalist for the “new 7 wonders of the world” campaign for its majestic natural beauty.
Construction is in the early stages but is accelerating daily with the dredging of the island’s seabed and its coral reef. In 2009 over 400 Jeju residents lost a lawsuit against Defense Minister Kim Tae-young claiming the ministry approved the construction of the base without completing a study of the environmental impact on the island.
Included among those arrested in Thursday's raid was Brother Song Kang-Ho, the village mayor Kang Dong-Kyun, and base opposition leader Ko Kwon-Il. In addition to facing up to five years in prison, the three face hefty fines.
The South Korean Navy and Minister of Justice Lee Gui Nam also issued a notice to 77 individuals and civil society organizations for disturbing the construction of the naval base, which bans them from getting into the public water or approaching the land near the Joongduk coastline where the naval base will be constructed.
For Korea analysts like Christine Ahn, executive director of the U.S.-based Korea Policy Institute, the ROK government’s “repression against the villagers communicates to the world that South Korea has returned to the era of authoritarian rule."