Sheehan visits locals in protest of Camp Humphreys expansion
Activist in South Korea to oppose free trade agreement
DAECHU-RI, South Korea — Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan visited a village near Camp Humphreys on Monday night in a show of “solidarity” with local residents opposing the installation’s expansion.
Sheehan was part of a group of about 20 activists from the United States who are in South Korea this week to oppose the expansion project and a proposed South Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.
The camp is set to triple in size in coming years and become the U.S. military’s main installation on the peninsula.
Some local residents backed by South Korean anti-US activists have been resisting the expansion since 2005.
“The farmer group had invited me to come to observe” the conflict over the expansion, Sheehan told Stripes before a candlelight vigil in the village. “This gives me a lot of concern … that our military is doing that to them.”
Sheehan’s son Casey died in Iraq in 2004. She has since gained international prominence as an activist opposing the Iraq war and the Bush administration.
Sheehan said the expansion project was objectionable partly because it has resulted in the dislocation of residents, separating them from their farms, schools and homes.
“I think it’s a human-rights issue,” she said.
In the past, South Korean government officials have defended the project as necessary to the South Korea-U.S. military alliance, and have said they are taking steps to aid dislocated residents with job, housing, and other needs.
The South Korean government in 2005 took control of a 2,328-acre expanse and set it aside for the project under a South Korea-U.S. agreement.
In May, South Korean forces wrested physical control of the land in a massive security operation. They’ve since turned it into a restricted-access military zone with razor-wire barriers, water-filled trenches and other obstacles.
Workers are to begin early next year preparing the first 200-acre portion of those lands for eventual construction.
Monday night’s candlelight vigil in Daechu-ri went forward inside a large concrete building a short distance from the camp’s perimeter.
Seventy-five area residents sat on silver-colored mats, candles burning in front of them. Most appeared elderly or of middle age.
The visiting activists spoke briefly in turn, praising the residents for resisting the expansion. A succession of speakers called for the ouster of the U.S. military from South Korea, and deplored variously Bush administration “militarism” and U.S. foreign policy.
“I am humbled by your courage and your integrity and your perseverance,” Sheehan told the residents. “In the United States and here in Pyeongtaek you have a great struggle … we’re all struggling against Georgie Bushy and his militarism.”
Sheehan’s sister Dede Miller, of Los Angeles, told the audience, “I’m just very sorry for what my country is doing to yours.”
Miller said she and Sheehan would work to “stop the crazy people that are running our country right now.”
When a bus transporting the activists pulled up to the police checkpoint that blocks entry into Daechu-ri a phalanx of blue-clad police was in position behind steel barriers, the first two ranks of officers equipped with riot helmets and shields. After an interval of about 10 minutes, police allowed the bus to proceed through the checkpoint. The candlelight session lasted about an hour and the activists were scheduled to spend the night in Daechu-ri.