Holdout farmers at Camp Humphreys may soon be ousted
PYEONGTAEK, South Korea — South Korean authorities will move soon to oust activists and others who have refused to give up their homes on farmlands near Camp Humphreys, according to a defense ministry official.
The action, said Brig. Gen. Gyeong Jang-ho, would include an effort to clear resisters from their barricaded makeshift headquarters inside the Daechu-ri Elementary School and elsewhere on the contested lands. And it would aim to halt farmers from any further rice planting, which is seen as a potential obstacle to the government’s control of the land.
Gyeong, chief of the U.S. Affairs division in South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense, made the statements while briefing reporters Tuesday in Seoul.
Activists, farmers and other local residents have been embroiled since last year in a standoff with the South Korean government. The government wants to evict them so the land can be used for the eventual expansion of Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek. The post is slated to triple in size by 2008 and become the U.S. military’s chief installation on the peninsula, under an agreement between South Korea and the United States.
The government last year bought 2,328 acres for the expansion. The tract includes Daechu-ri village, which borders part of Camp Humphreys.
Most residents have moved out, but those refusing to go say it would be difficult for them, especially the elderly, to find work and start life over elsewhere. Some also say the government’s money offer was too low.
A ministry official said Wednesday that the operation against the school compound would occur sometime between April 27 and May 7. Gyeong said movement against the farming would come between April 27 and May 10. He said it has yet to be determined whether the move to halt farming would include tearing out crops already planted.
Gyeong said officials were aware of a South Korean Supreme Court ruling in an unrelated case that, depending upon how it’s interpreted, could bar the government from disturbing the rice crop once stalks grow past a few centimeters.
He said defense ministry officials were examining how that ruling might apply to Daechu-ri. Conclusions are expected within 60 days.
But he emphasized, the ministry is determined to go forward with its plans for the farm acreage and is determined to take whatever lawful means were necessary to do so.
Officials also are weighing other possible measures against farming, including setting up barbed wire fencing in certain parts of the contested area.
The government previously has made several abortive attempts to stop farming. In each attempt, government officials called off the effort in the face of scuffles with resisters and police.