Korean Farmers and Peace Activists Protest US Military Base Expansion

Personal account of resistance to US military base plans in Pyungtack, South Korea

Personal account of resistance to US military base plans in Pyungtack, South Korea

This statement has been forwarded to us by our partners at the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (PROK):

2006-4-30 Summary of situation at Pyeongtaek

Some people describe the situation at Pyeongtaek as “a state of war”. If it is a state of war, it is a civil war, Koreans fighting other Koreans, on behalf of the United States armed forces and their military bases in the Republic of Korea.

On one side there are about 70 farming families still left, who have refused to move away, and scores of peace activists who support the farmers in the struggle to save their farms and homes. On the other side are thousands of riot police, private security contractors, and Korean troops who have been given the task of removing the remaining farmers and peace activists from the land, more than 2000 hectares, on orders from the ROK Ministry of National Defense.The Ministry of Defense has its orders, in turn, from the Pentagon.The farmers are victims caught in the middle of the US military’s plan to realign its forces in Asia and elsewhere in the world, particularly on the Korean peninsula.

More than half a century after the end of the Korean War, there are still thousands of US troops and dozens of bases in South Korea, but that will soon change. As part of the worldwide reorganization of American military forces, the US Forces in Korea (USFK) will be reduced by several thousand, and the number of bases reduced to about a dozen. The centerpiece of this restructuring in Korea is the planned expansion of Camp Humphreys to three times its present size and its transformation into the main US military base in Korea, with army, navy, and air force installations close to each other near the town of Pyeongtaek, about an hour’s drive south of Seoul.

Members of the Korean peace movement have been closely monitoring the actions and announcements of the USFK and are deeply disturbed at the direction events are taking. The Republic of Korea (South Korea - ROK) -US military alliance, governed by the Mutual Defense Treaty, is a strictly defensive alliance. If the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) launches an attack on South Korea, the US is bound by the terms of the alliance and the treaty to come to South Korea’s aid and help defend it. The USFK’s sphere of activity is confined to the Korean peninsula, as its mission is restricted to defending South Korea from attack from the North.

Now, however, as part of the process of transforming the US armed forces around the world, the Pentagon wants to give the USFK what it calls “strategic flexibility”. In general terms, having “strategic flexibility” means that the USFK’s role would no longer be limited to defensive actions and its activity would range far beyond the Korean peninsula.

Peace activists point out that this would violate both the Mutual Defense Treaty and Korea’s own laws.The peace movement sees the effort to transform the USFK and give it “strategic flexibility” as part of a grand US strategy of maintaining military hegemony in the Northeast Asia region, changing the ROK-US defensive alliance into an offensive force, and trying to contain China. They fear that Korea could be turned into a staging area for America’s aggressive military adventures in other parts of the Asia-Pacific region and that as a result, the Korean peninsula could be drawn into a regional war involving China and other countries. Therefore the peace activists are opposed to the enlargement of the bases at Pyeongtaek, which is an essential step toward implementing the US’ new military project for Korea and the wider Asian area.

For that reason they have joined with the farm families who refuse to move out.

The farmers in this area have been uprooted before and are determined not to let their land be seized again. Many of them are in their 60s and 70s and would find it very difficult to start their lives all over again now. The farmers, peace activists, and citizens from all over Korea have joined together to defend the land and the farmers’ right to live and work in peace.They don’t want to see land which is used to grow food and to support life buried under tons of concrete to make a military base to prepare for war, death, and destruction.

The farmers and the peace movement volunteers have devoted many months to efforts to stop the forcible seizure of the land and the eviction of the families. There have been demonstrations, speeches, marches, rallies, petitions, press conferences, more than 600 days of candlelight vigils, to call attention to the plight of the farmers and to call for support. The critical point in this process will soon be reached. The Ministry of Defense is becoming impatient and wants to remove the farmers and protesters by early May. For weeks, thousands of police have confronted a few hundred protesters and farmers, resulting in numerous arrests and injuries. The police have used back hoes to tear up the rice fields and destroy roads along the fields, while bringing in cement mixers to fill in irrigation channels which bring water to the crops.

Farmers have proceeded with the spring planting in defiance of the police and military, and protesters have used nonviolent resistance tactics to prevent the police from seizing the land and evicting the farmers.

The issue will probably be decided in the next few days. The Ministry of Defense may well decide to use massive force, surrounding the contested land with barbed wire to prevent the farmers from tending their crops, and then tearing up the recently planted rice shoots.

If the US military forces get their way, Korean police and soldiers will arrest Korean farmers and peace activists, in order to demolish homes and villages, uproot crops, and destroy rice fields.

{mosimage}Bulldozers and backhoes will replace plows and tractors on the land, and soon the land itself will disappear under acres of cement, surrounded by barbed wire. The farmers and their families will be displaced from their homes, where they have lived all their lives, to make way for thousands of soldiers preparing to make war on Korea’s neighbors. The farmers and peace activists want to prevent this and preserve this area as a “land of life and peace”.

They are prepared to resist to the end, in the name of peace.

Personal Experience
{mosimage}My name is Hun Jung Cho. And I am the senior pastor of Hyanglin Church, located in Myungdong, Seoul. I was with the farmers of Pyungtack and the peace activists of about 50 persons in April, 7. On front of us, there were more than two thousand policemen with Bulldozers. Then I was arrested with other 30 peace makers because of interference with a governmentofficial in the exercise of his duties. I was imprisoned for three days. On the release since I was refused to leave my finger print, I was forced to do it violently by three policemen. I had a serious bruise on the four knuckles of right hand. And I still have a pain on right elbow.

  Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea expresses concern over US military expansion
  Peace Statement
  News release: Koreans protest U.S. base plans