Farmers defy government order, plow up rice fields near Camp Humphreys
PYEONGTAEK, South Korea — South Korean farmers who oppose the expansion of Camp Humphreys plowed up a section of rice fields Friday in a show of defiance against the government’s claims to control of the land.
Although several thousand South Korean riot police stood ready in the area, authorities did not deploy them against the protesters, who plowed the land despite a government no-farming order.
But officials said Friday they detained four people on charges of assaulting police officers and obstructing officials in the execution of duty. Two of the four were college students; the others were activists opposing the camp expansion, police said.
The government has been locked in conflict with local farmers and others who oppose the South Korean government’s plans to clear the land of its remaining residents so the U.S. military eventually can triple Camp Humphreys’ size. The post is slated to become the U.S. military’s main installation on the peninsula by 2008 under a U.S.-South Korea agreement.
The government has taken legal control of the land and most residents have moved from their former homes.
But some resisters have barricaded themselves inside the grounds of the local Daechu-ri Elementary School and have refused to leave. They include farmers and other local residents, as well as activists helping to lead the opposition.
The South Korean Ministry of National Defense on Thursday said it will eventually clear the remaining holdouts from the area and seal it off so the expansion can proceed. They said they would not disclose when they would so they can show up unannounced.
On Wednesday, teams of workers under contract to the defense ministry began an abortive effort to cut trenches across roads in the area.
But officials called off the effort within hours after scuffles between resisters and police. Police made several arrests. Four female protesters were injured and taken to local hospitals.
Meanwhile, Camp Humphreys officials on Friday extended travel restrictions they had imposed last week because of the conflict in the rice fields.
The off-limits status of the entire town of Anjung-ri was extended “until further notice,” a Camp Humphreys spokeswoman said Friday night. It had previously been set to expire at 8 p.m. Friday.
But Col. Michael J. Taliento Jr., commander of the Area III Support Activity, extended the restriction Friday under U.S. Forces Korea guidance that contact by U.S. military personnel “be minimized in situations that could be violent or dangerous to any or all that may be involved,” spokeswoman Susan Barkley said.
Other travel restrictions imposed earlier in the week continued in effect until further notice, Barkley said.
Hwang Hae-rym contributed to this report.