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PYEONGTAEK, South Korea — South Korea’s defense ministry said Thursday it was aborting efforts to seal off the large tract of contested farmland slated to become part of an expanded Camp Humphreys — but only temporarily.

A spokesman said the ministry still intends to seal off the land and evict residents who have refused to move out.

But officials have decided they will not disclose beforehand when government officials and their police escort will return to the area because they don’t want to alert the holdout residents; instead, the officials will show up unannounced.

On Wednesday, teams of workers under contract to the ministry moved onto the land in what were to have been the first steps in sealing it off: using backhoes to cut trenches across roads so resisters can’t farm the land.

But protesters who oppose the Camp Humphreys expansion succeeded in blocking Wednesday’s efforts, ministry officials said. Some protesters set fires in the rice fields. Others took control of two backhoes, police said.

Police on hand to protect the workers scuffled with the protesters Wednesday and made some arrests. Four female protesters were injured and taken to local hospitals.

The South Korean government wants control of the land to enable the U.S. military to triple Camp Humphreys’ size and turn it into its main installation on the peninsula by 2008.

About 120 workers had entered the area Wednesday under the protection of about 4,300 riot-equipped Korean National Police officers.

Meanwhile, travel restrictions Camp Humphreys officials imposed on base personnel Wednesday remained in effect Thursday night.

The following villages and travel routes to them temporarily are off limits to U.S. military personnel: Daechu-ri, Bonjong-ri, Wongjong-ri, Nae-ri, Dodu-ri, Hamjeong 1-ri, Hamjeong 2-ri, and Duejeong-ri.

The ban does not apply to personnel entering those areas on their way to or from work, Humphreys officials said.

Also off-limits since Wednesday was the entire town of Anjung-ri, including the commercial district just outside the post’s main gate, frequented by many Camp Humphreys personnel. That restriction was to remain in effect until 8 p.m. Friday.

Inside the post, officials have banned vehicles and pedestrians along the northern perimeter road, between the 3rd Military Intelligence Battalion headquarters area and the main gate of the South Korean defense ministry compound in the Zoeckler Station section.

Hwang Hae-rym contributed to this report.

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