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SEOUL — Thousands of bunnies in Kunsan have literally been scared to death by aircraft noise, according to rabbit farmer Lee Ho-kyung.

And he wants compensation.

Raising rabbits for 17 years, Lee said he’d never had problems with them dying until he moved to Kunsan in 2004 to care for his ailing father. His farm is about half a mile from a runway shared by the 8th Fighter Wing and South Korea’s 38th Fighter Group.

Since then, he said, he’s lost more than 100,000 rabbits. A 2008 autopsy, he said, determined the rabbits died as the result of "stress caused by external factors," not disease.

While rabbits are known for their ability to multiply, Lee’s stock continuesto decline, as he is unable to breed more. Infertility rates are up 30 percent among his rabbits. Even those that remain fertile don’t stay mothers for long.

"I cannot make them breed, because the mother rabbits kill and eat their babies right after the babies are born," he said. "It is all because of the piercing noises from U.S. aircrafts."

Now he’s down to 300 rabbits and fears for his future.

"I’ve almost lost my livelihood. But rabbits are my life and my lifetime job," Lee said. "I cannot give up.

The only solution is to move out of this noisy place, to find another quiet area to keep farming rabbits. If I could get compensation, I would move out as soon as possible."

Lee filed a complaint with the Korean Environmental Dispute Resolution Commission after borrowing the 600,000 won (about $407) filing fee from friends, and asked for 250,000,000 Korean won (about $170,000) to cover the cost of moving.

Commission spokesman Yang Keun-chul told Stripes he was aware of Lee’s complaint, but because it involved the U.S.-South Korea Status of Forces Agreement, the commission would not involve itself in the case.

Yang said South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade was the agency that should handle the case.

A ministry spokeswoman, however, said it also would not get involved. She said Lee should seek compensation through the Ministry of Justice.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman then said the case should be referred to the Jeonju Compensation Committee.

"Realistically, there’s not much help for the farmer," said a law officer with the committee.

"Generally, noise-inflicted-damage cases are not strong enough to prove the damage appraisal because of their abstractness," he said. "From my personal experiences, USFK officials would hardly agree to compensation in a noise-related case. His chance is likely very slim."

South Korean courts have awarded damages for noise complaints against U.S. Forces Korea in the past. The first time was in January 2004, when a two-year class-action lawsuit resulted in awards of up to $1,548 each to 1,878 Kunsan residents.

In 2005, a judge ordered the South Korean government to pay $7.8 million to 1,900 villagers from Maehyang-ri after they said noise from bombing and strafing practice at nearby Koon-ni range had caused hearing loss, stress, sleep problems and hypertension.

First Lt. Dave Herndon, 8th Fighter Wing spokesman, said wing officials were aware of Lee’s problem, but no official complaint had come from city hall, which he said is the usual channel for complaints about the base.

"Over the last five years we have flown roughly the same number of sorties from Kunsan Air Base," Herndon said in a prepared statement e-mailed to Stripes on Wednesday.

"At the present time we are not aware of any evidence supporting accusations that the base is responsible for any aircraft noise related incidents, but we do take all accusations and any others impacting the local community seriously."

Herndon said claims for damages would be handled by the USFK claims office.

USFK spokesman Dave Palmer said the command has received no complaints.

An information paper e-mailed to Stripes on Wednesday said that in claims found to have merit, USFK can pay up to 75 percent of any damages awarded, though it typically pays half. The South Korean government pays the remainder.


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