S. Korean police act to avoid violence with protesters at school
Stars and Stripes March 9, 2006
PYEONGTAEK, South Korea — South Korean police said Tuesday fears of violence led to their aborting Monday’s attempt to force protesters — some of whom had chained themselves together — from a school near Camp Humphreys.
Monday’s confrontation between police and demonstrators at the Daechu-ri Elementary School produced no injuries, police said, and protesters remained in place Tuesday.
The protesters have said they’ll hold firm in resisting the South Korean government’s efforts to buy land adjoining Camp Humphreys and let the U.S. military use it.
Plans are to turn Camp Humphreys into the main U.S. installation on the peninsula.
Projections call for the post to triple in size by 2008. The government spent much of 2005 buying up the land.
But some farmers have rejected the government’s land payments and are refusing to leave. Some have said the buy-up forces them off land their families have farmed for generations.
The land purchase comes under a U.S.-South Korea agreement.
Police on Monday had positioned themselves near the school, where demonstrators had scheduled a 9 a.m. rally.
But as the day progressed, police dropped any plans of immediately clearing the school grounds, police in Pyeongtaek told Stars and Stripes on Tuesday.
Police detained about 30 demonstrators Monday, including those who had chained themselves together. But they released the demonstrators later in the day.
South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense has neither disputed nor confirmed media reports last week that it plans to seal off some 2,000 acres of contested farm land near Camp Humphreys.
The reports said the MND plans to enclose the land behind barbed-wire fences and set up security checkpoints in the area to prevent farmers from farming it this month.
The farming season traditionally resumes in March with the arrival of spring weather.
Friday, an MND official said the ministry would release a statement on the matter Tuesday.
But an MND spokesman contacted Tuesday afternoon told Stars and Stripes the statement might be issued Wednesday or Thursday.
Under its agreement with South Korea, the U.S. military has said it will shift the bulk of its forces from Seoul and points north into two regional hubs, one in the Pyeongtaek region, the other in the Daegu-Busan area.
Camp Humphreys would be the largest installation and would become the headquarters for U.S. Forces Korea.
Other senior U.S. military headquarters also would relocate to Camp Humphreys, as would other units and organizations.