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The clock ticks down on GangjeongTempers flare as anti-naval base protesters dig in. Staff reporter Darryl Coote sends a first-hand account
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승인 2011.09.01  09:57:11
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For developments on Sept. 2, please click here:
http://www.jejuweekly.com/news/articleView.html?idxno=1902 -- Ed.

Conflict at the naval base site in Gangjeong village has escalated. Seventy protesters are under investigation and hundreds more police are being moved into the village as a recent court-ordered injunction against any interference in building operations at the site means that the protest camp will soon be dismantled. In what may be the final days of the camp, The Jeju Weekly sent Darryl Coote out to observe the situation first hand. This installment of his report will be updated and expanded as events unfold over the next few hours and days. -- Ed.



▲ Two pups, residents of the Jungdeok, Gangjeong village anti-naval base protesters' camp roam freely in the morning of Aug. 30 while the majority of their human companions sleep. Photo by Darryl Coote

It’s quiet during the early hours of Aug. 30 in Gangjeong, Seogwipo City. However the eerie calm belies the fact that this is the location of the controversial naval base construction site, scene of a bitter, ongoing struggle between the Navy and anti-naval base protesters.

As I walk down the street to the protesters’ base camp in Jungdeok, I can see there is a noticeable increase in police presence since my last visit a week ago. Tensions are at an all-time high now. Last week, between Aug. 24 and the early morning hours of Aug. 25, there was a standoff between police and protesters that resulted in the arrests of five protesters including village chief Chang Dong Gyun and Father Moon Jung Hyun. Father Moon has since been released and Seogwipo Police Chief Song Yang Hwa has been replaced due to the way he handled the situation.

Construction that had been halted for months is again underway, and an injunction has been passed which restricts how the protesters can demonstrate.

As the protesters stir from their tents scattered about the main road to Jungdeok and along the coast, a priest and I begin to talk. He says he’s from Suwon and arrived on Friday to offer support after the arrests made during the week. I ask to speak with Father Moon and he says he will take me to him.

We arrive at the main construction gate where a group of priests have taken up residence since the arrests to prevent equipment from going into the site. They have also perform Mass here. As I sit and wait for Moon, I can see plastic barricades being erected, haphazardly penning us in from the main road. Everyone looks at each other in confusion. Then, Father Lee Kang Suh from the Urban Poor Pastoral Committee in Seoul arrives. Father Lee says he asked the nearby police who was responsible and they replied they didn’t know.

Lee shouts into the street, “If no one is in charge, and if you are not going to tell me who is, I am going to take [the barricade] down.”

And he does, with help from other protesters, while a man who is unknown to them takes pictures.

▲ Priests remove the barricade from in front of where they hold mass as police officers stand by. Photo by Darryl Coote

The protesters are now becoming unnerved. Believing the photographer to be a plain clothes police officer they demand to know his name, and who he works for. He refuses to give them the information. A young protester takes issue with him for taking the photos and they begin yelling and attempting to stare each other down. Some protesters try to pull the young man away, while others with iPads, cell phones and video cameras record the event. A group of police officers arrive at the scene but make no attempt to end the fight, preferring to stand by and idly watch.

▲ A protester, left, and a construction worker have a heated argument while Father Lee Kang Suh (middle) looks on. Photo by Darryl Coote

It doesn’t appear as if it will end until it comes to blows however it finishes with them shouting as they move further and further away from one another. A dust-up like this happens daily I am told. The priests prepare for Mass.

I manage to speak with the unknown man, who says he is in charge of construction at the naval base, however he refuses to give his name, position, or the name of the company for which he works.

“I started drawing the border line,” he says, meaning the barricade that was put in place to delineate where the Navy’s property ends and public property begins. “But the guys on that side,” [here he points to the priests] started arguing.”

He says it is illegal for the priests to be there “but the police are currently trying to avoid any trouble with them so that’s why I think they are just doing nothing.”

I ask him what more he thought the police should be doing.

“I will take an example,” he replied. “Somebody intrudes into my house. I want that person to leave. What do I do? I can’t hit him since we need to follow the law, so I only have the police to resort to.”

But the protesters are still there I say.

“Well...” he replies noncommittally.

Father Moon arrived by scooter during the ordeal. I ask him for an interview but he replies that he is “in tension,” and has work to do. His phone sounds with incoming texts as if to confirm this.

It is now just after 10 in the morning.

▲ Priests remove their robes after giving mass on Aug. 30 in front of the main gate to the naval base construction site. Photo by Darryl Coote

I leave the priests to their Mass and walk through a rather deserted protest camp to the dining tent near the shore. All the university students I had seen earlier in the day have gone. SBS, KBS, MBC, and other media companies have arrived, with reporters dressed in uncomfortable shoes lugging around their cameras.

▲ Children of protesters play with dogs they said belong to the base camp, in the protesters communal dining tent. Photo by Darryl Coote

In the dining tent two cooks work over big pots, and three young girls play with puppies. I ask the cooks where everyone had gone. They make a couple of phone calls and tell me the protesters have divided into two groups and have gone to Jeju City Hall and Jeju National University. They add that they have not gone to protest, but to inform citizens about their cause and to promote the Gangjeong Culture Festival they are to hold this weekend. The Jeju Provincial Police Agency have since released a report that states if the festival “is changed into a un-notified rally or a night march we will take strict measures.” The statement continues that if “people occupy roads for a long period of time or sit-ins, under the law and principles we are planning to take measures such as dismissing it by force.” The agency says that they will deny all applications for rallies in Gangjeong between Aug. 29 and Sept. 15.

▲ The road leading from Jungdeok into Gangjeong, Seogwipo City. The protesters have placed a portable office and other structures in the way, preventing the navy from cutting off the road by extending their wall. Photo by Darryl Coote

I leave the cooks and walk back towards the mouth of the street that leads into Gangjeong. It is here that the protesters have laid pallets in the road beside a portable office that blocks the Navy from cutting the protesters off from their base camp. Former Assemblywoman and Jeju Democratic Labour Party Chairwoman Hyun Ae Ja sits in the shade on one of the pallets in the road with chains by her feet. It is very hot and she offers me a glass of water.

“This is a worrying situation,” she says, “... if things proceed as [they were] announced, it is possible many people will be arrested or taken to the police station.”

The day before, on Aug. 29, the Jeju District Court had ordered an injunction that will force the protesters to either disband, or effectively become criminals. The injunction orders the dismantling and removal of all protester facilities within seven days from Aug. 31. Should any of the estimated 70 people mentioned in the order be found on Navy property, it will be assumed that they are committing an illegal act and will be treated accordingly. The injunction gives the police the power to remove the protesters and their buildings, as well as to fine individuals up to 5 million won for each violation they commit.

Hyun says the injunction is in favor of the government, and fails to provide protection for the villagers. The order, she says, “shows that state violence is being used without concern,” and the people “will not accept it.” If arrests (based on the injunction) are made, the people of Korea will come together through their anger and “there will be more people showing more support from being [so] worried and concerned."

“And we will use that power to stop this. It will happen,” she adds.

I left Hyun with an SBS reporter and returned to the dining tent to see if a congregation of hungry protesters had formed and was rewarded with the return of the bearded Father Moon. At first he was reluctant to give me an interview but I persisted and asked him two questions “Why were you arrested [on Aug. 24] and why were you released?”

“I was supposed to protect the [village chief],” he says, who was also being arrested, however Father Moon said he lost sight of Chang Dong Gyun in the scrum of protesters and police. There was a car parked within the mix of people and Moon said he “...climbed on top of the car and shouted ‘Release my Chief Chang Dong Gyun!’” It was then that he was arrested by the police.

Moon confirmed to me that it was a police car adding that he thought this to have been the reason for his immediate arrest.

In answer to my question “Why were you released?” he suggested I ask the police, because he did not know why. “Actually I wanted to be put in jail. Because three of the villagers were arrested and put in jail and I [wanted] to be with them. As a priest I want to share the suffering of the villagers, that is why I am here,” he says.

I asked if he thought the Catholic church hierarchy had made representations on his behalf.

“Well, as far as I know the KCIA [the national security service]” asked other Catholic priests about his arrest “and most of the priests [said] they were not happy.”

He added that he thought the KCIA found it “...very difficult to [have] Father Moon arrested and put in jail, and that they were afraid of the Catholic community. I believe that is why I was released.”

In Gangjeong, the mood, atmosphere, and situation changes faster than can be reported. The protesters have released a worldwide letter of plea to save the village, while during a speech on Aug. 30, South Korea President Lee Myung Bak gave his support for the naval base.

Last week I asked the protesters when they thought the police would come and force them to leave. “Maybe tomorrow,” most of them said. Now, they speak without maybes and their tomorrows appear to be numbered.

(Interpretation and transcription by Oh Ji Su)

▲ The naval base construction site in Gangjeong, Seogwipo City with the Jeju World Cup Stadium as a backdrop. Photo by Darryl Coote
▲ The view of Mt. Halla on the morning of Aug. 30 with the naval base construction site in the foreground. Photo by Darryl Coote
▲ A sunrise over the naval base construction site in Gangjeong village, Seogwipo City, on Aug. 30. Photo by Darryl Coote
▲ The sun rises in the early morning in Jungdeok, Seogwipo City, the naval base construction site and also the protesters' base camp. Photo by Darryl Coote
▲ The southern coast of Jungdeok from the protestors' tent where they greet Olle hikers and speak to them about their cause. Photo by Darryl Coote
▲ Protest signs are held down with rocks in Jungdeok with Mt. Halla in the background. Photo by Darryl Coote
▲ Protesters make their way back to base camp after showering in Gangjeong village. Photo by Darryl Coote
▲ Father Moon Jung Hyun arrives to the argument between the protesters and the construction worker out front of the main gate to the construction site where the priests have set up a camp to block equipment from entering the construction site and to hold mass. Photo by Darryl Coote
▲ Father Lee Kang Suh giving a speech to protesters after the altercation. Photo by Darryl Coote
▲ After months of inactivity, construction is again under way in Gangjeong, Seogwipo City, the construction site of the naval base. Photo by Darryl Coote
▲ Inside the tent where a majority of protesters sleep. Photo by Darryl Coote
▲ Inside the tent where a majority of protesters sleep. Photo by Darryl Coote
▲ Near the mouth of the street that leads to Jungdeok, protesters congregate to converse and inform Olle hikers of their cause. Photo by Darryl Coote
▲ Lunch on Aug. 30 at the protesters base camp. Food is given by donation from villagers, sent from the mainland, and bought with donations. Photo by Darryl Coote
▲ Lunch on Aug. 30 at the protesters base camp. Food is given by donation from villagers, sent from the mainland, and bought with donations. Photo by Darryl Coote
▲ The dining tent during lunch on Aug. 30. Photo by Darryl Coote
▲ A depiction of Father Moon Jung Hyun on the metal wall that separates the naval base construction site from the road that leads to the protesters' base camp. Photo by Darryl Coote
▲ Children of protesters play with dogs on the shore of Jungdeok, Gangjeong village, Seogwipo City. Photo by Darryl Coote
▲ Father Lee Kang Suh explaining why he dismantled the barricade in front of the main naval base construction gate where the priests have taken up residence. Photo by Darryl Coote
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