In an announcement on March 23, The Ministry of Transportation denied claims that Jeju’s second airport site would include an Air Force base.
During a community consultation at Seongsan-eup Office, Director General for Airport and ANF Policies Son Myung-soo said the airport will be “100 percent private”.
“We have had no preliminary discussions with the Ministry of Defense, and there are no plans whatsoever to use [the airport] as an air base,” said Son.
The meeting with the mayors of Nansan, Sinsan, and Susan villages followed an announcement on March 9 by Air Force Chief of Staff Jeong Gyeong-du that the Air Force planned to establish the Southern Region Search and Rescue Air Group at the airport.
The news of the air base U-turn came as a welcome surprise for campaigners. As recently as March 2, Air Force Director of Public Affairs Lee Sang-gyu told Headline Jeju that a feasibility study into constructing an air base would commence next year.
The Southern Region SAR is comprised of four planes, four helicopters, up to 300 Air Force personnel, and its included in the next Mid-Term Defense Plan from 2021.
The Air Force SAR is currently headquartered at Cheongju International Airport. Although it isn’t a combat unit, the Seoul Shinmun reported back in 2006 that an SAR base would have been the first stage in establishing an air defense squadron on Jeju.
This is denied by the Air Force.
The Southern Region SAR was first included in the 2007-2011 Mid-Term Defense Plan and it was opposed by civil society groups from the outset. The Ministry of Defence abandoned its 2012 plan to use Altteureu Airfield in Daejeong-eup after not only logistical complications, but also a strong public outcry.
The protests have been just as fierce this time around. The Jeju Environmental Movement Union said in a March 6 statement that if Governor Won Hee-ryong is found to have any links to the Air Force plans, “it is obvious grounds for impeachment.”
Although the climbdown from the Ministry of Transportation is a small victory for campaigners, villagers surrounding the second airport site are still engaged in a bitter fight to stop the airport.
Kang Wanbo, executive chairman of the Seongsan-eup Second Airport Opposition Committee, told The Jeju Weekly that the Air Force saga had only inflamed the situation.
“Opposition [to the second airport] among locals has furiously erupted. In the neighboring villages, too, the opposition ranks have swelled,” said Kang.
Kang believes that there may be long-term strategic plans to use militarize Jeju Island.
Although it is off the table for now, anti-airport campaigners remain vigilant and expect more surprises ahead in the effort to stop the second airport.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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