South Korea razes houses outside Camp Humphreys
DAECHU-RI, South Korea — South Korean work crews under heavy police escort tore down scores of vacated homes in a village Wednesday to clear the way for Camp Humphreys to expand.
The work went forward virtually unimpeded, although minor scuffles were reported. Twenty protesters were arrested, a Pyeongtaek police official said. Five protesters were injured and taken to a local hospital, he said, and three police officers sustained minor injuries.
Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek is slated to triple in size and become the U.S. military’s main installation on the peninsula in coming years under a U.S.-South Korea agreement.
On Wednesday, large earthmovers went about their work with a grinding, metallic squeal, smashing through aged cinderblock, wooden beams and corrugated metal roofing.
Houses broke apart quickly and laid in a heap of splintered wood, broken stone and dust. A foul smell hung over many of the wrecked houses.
Crews working for South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense completed their task in a single day, demolishing 94 homes, a government official told Stars and Stripes Wednesday night.
The homes are in several farming villages within the 2,238-acre tract the South Korean government bought in 2005 to enable Camp Humphreys to expand.
Many residents left the area after the government paid them to move. Theirs were the homes demolished Wednesday, the Defense Ministry said.
But others, including some farmers and elderly residents, have refused to leave. Supporting them have been activist groups that often have mobilized thousands of protesters to the area for rallies against the expansion.
South Korean security forces seized control of the area from local activists in May. Its army has since turned the tract into a restricted-access military zone with concertina-wire barriers, water-filled trenches and a round-the-clock government troop presence.
Several hundred residents and activists remain in the area, activists and officials have said. Earlier this year, the Defense Ministry said it would allow the holdout residents to remain in the area until the end of October.
In mounting Wednesday’s demolition effort, the Defense Ministry said it would not disturb any home that remains occupied.
About 18,000 South Korean riot police were present to safeguard the operation against protests.
“What a miserable situation,” said Father Mun Jyeong-hyeon, a Catholic priest who has been a key leader against the expansion. He and other activists watched Wednesday’s demolition from a rooftop in Daechu-ri. He accused the South Korean government of tearing down the buildings to “scare the people” still living in the area into leaving without resistance.
At times, activists on rooftops chanted slogans, thrusting their fists in the air. One woman spoke from a rooftop through a bullhorn, addressing the squads of young, dark-blue-clad riot police who were positioned at many points throughout the village.