Unannounced protests close Yongsan gates
May 1, 2006
SEOUL — An unannounced protest Saturday morning against the expansion of a U.S. military base south of Seoul drew hundreds of South Koreans to the entrance of the Ministry of National Defense, near a main gate at Yongsan Garrison. The gathering prompted U.S. military officials to limit access to three drive-in gates for about two hours and to closely monitor outer walk-in gates, according to a spokesman for Area II Support Activity.
“There was never an immediate threat to Yongsan Garrison,” said Steve Davis, Area II spokesman, adding that the gates were closed as a precaution. “There were no incidents reported at our gates.”
Two groups of protesters gathered near Yongsan and the ministry to protest plans by South Korea and the United States to move the U.S. Forces Korea headquarters south and triple the size of Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, according to Korean police at Yongsan-gu station.
The first group of 80 people gathered closer to Gate 5 from 8:30 to 10 a.m., police said. The second, larger group of about 300, many apparently college students, gathered near the ministry’s entrance to protest both the Humphreys expansion and tuition costs, police said.
Expanding Humphreys relies on the South Korean government’s purchase of farmland. That has met with months of dedicated, and sometimes violent, protests in Pyeongtaek, the port city about an hour south of Seoul. Most recently, farmers have planted rice crops in the area; they claim that if the plants grow to a certain height, South Korean law will protect their land from being bought by the government.
At 10 a.m. Saturday, Davis said, Area II officials stopped vehicle traffic from using Gate 10, the closest to the defense ministry. Thirty minutes later, officials closed vehicle gates at Gates 7 and 8 as well, he said. Walk-in access remained open at all the gates and no other entrances were affected by the crowd, Davis said. Gates 7 and 8 reopened at 11:45 a.m. and Gate 10 at noon, Davis said.
Hwang Hae-rym contributed to this report.