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SEOUL — Peace activist Cindy Sheehan and a handful of other Americans on Tuesday afternoon held their passports in front of South Korean riot police outside a main gate onto Yongsan Garrison, requesting a meeting with U.S. Forces Korea’s commanding general.

Their blue booklets and their chants for the U.S. military to halt base expansion plans south of Seoul went unanswered during the 40-minute long protest.

“My father served at this base,” Sheehan said as she stood in front of Gate 5 at Yongsan Garrison. “I have the right as an American to come onto this base.”

Sheehan has been protesting the war in Iraq and other U.S. military actions since her son died in Iraq in 2004. Last week, she and Medea Benjamin, a member of a women’s peace group called Code Pink, requested a meeting with Gen. B.B. Bell to discuss the expansion of Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek. They were told no one appropriate could meet with them.

On Tuesday, they came to Yongsan in person as part of a weeklong stay in South Korea to protest the expanding base and proposed free trade agreements between the United States and South Korea, Sheehan and Benjamin said.

They stood at the entrance and asked to be let in. A small group of South Korean riot police blocked their path. Inside, American officials closed the gate, which typically is open for pedestrian traffic.

USFK’s public affairs office issued a short statement Tuesday afternoon.

“While we respect and defend the right of American and Korean citizens to express their opinions, we have no specific statement in response to today’s impromptu protest,” the written statement read. “The protest occurred while Combined Forces Command bid farewell to one deputy commander, Gen. Lee Hee-Won, and welcomed another, Gen. Kim Byung-Kwan. Both men are great patriots and have dedicated their lives to protecting freedom, to include the right to protest, here in Korea.”

Before the protest, both women said they are concerned the U.S. military is expanding its foothold in Pyeongtaek when nuclear tensions are high on the peninsula. The U.S. military now is downsizing its troops here from 38,000 more than two years ago to a planned 25,000 in coming months. Currently, 29,500 U.S. troops are here.

But the military also is investing $11 billion in military technologies here, Benjamin said, which she called a sign of expansion. And both women said they felt plans to triple Camp Humphreys failed to take into consideration a group of farmers who’ve been on the land “for three generations,” Benjamin said.

The South Korean and U.S. governments have agreed to expand Humphreys to relocate USFK headquarters from Seoul to a less urban setting.

The South Korean government paid local landowners for a swath of 2,328 acres near the existing Camp Humphreys for the U.S. military expansion, though a small percentage in the Daechu-ri village has stood its ground. The effort is part of an overall plan to consolidate the U.S. military into two major hubs on the peninsula.

This spring, South Korean forces took control of the land in a massive security operation. They’ve since turned it into a restricted-access military zone.

Sheehan and other activists were allowed into that zone Monday night to hold a candlelight vigil and spend the night with the village’s residents.

Sheehan also took time during the protest to remember her son, Spc. Casey Sheehan, who died in Sadr City, Iraq. She held up a picture of him on a button and posed for photographers.

“We are not against the troops themselves,” Sheehan said as a few soldiers in uniform walked along an overpass above the protesters. “We’re against their leaders who deploy them carelessly.”


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