The Ministry of National Defense attempted to cut off waterways leading to rice fields in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, the place where the U.S. forces military base will relocate, to thwart local farmers from planting rice. The holdouts strongly protested and clashed violently with police called in by the Defense Ministry.
The demonstration left about 10 protesters injured, including local residents and members of the KCPT, a civic group opposed to the U.S. military base relocation to Pyeongtaek.
On April 7, 700 Defense Ministry workers blocked two out of the three canals and one pump pipe supplying water to the 2.85 million-pyeong of rice fields on the site where the base, Camp Humphreys, will relocate.
Meanwhile, police dispatched 6,000 officers to halt the demonstrators and arrested 30 local residents on charges of interference with government operations and illegal protests.
On the day of the confrontation, the area around the Camp Humphreys relocation site resembled a virtual battleground. Four hundred local farmers adamantly refused to leave and cried out that the land belongs to them. The Defense Ministry, too, stood firm and said that illegal farming in those areas will further push back the date of the U.S. military base relocation.
Faced with such fierce resistance, the Defense Ministry decided to cut off three waterways going into the contested farmland in Shindae-ri, Hamjeong-ri and Dodu-ri. Without the water from Anseong Stream provided by the three canals, farming is literally impossible in the 2.85 million-pyeong lands.
To cut off the canals, the ministry hired construction workers and brought in about 10 construction machines, including excavators, bulldozers, and cement mixers. The workers and machines were divided into four groups.
At about 9:30 a.m., 100 construction workers attempted to pass by a church in Hamjeong-ri to close the Dodu-ri canal with an excavator. When they turned onto a narrow road, 50 KCPT members stopped them. At the one end of the road were seven police squadrons deployed in case of a clash.
After some violent words were exchanged between the protesters and the construction workers, a fistfight broke out.
Three hundred meters from the fistfight was the Hamjeong-ri waterway, where the government-hired workers dug up the ground for the waterway under the protection of 11 police squadrons. After much difficulty, they closed the waterway by pouring concrete into it at around 12:30 p.m.
Requested by the Defense Ministry, the police began forcibly breaking up the anti-relocation protest at around 3:00 p.m. The ministry was able to successfully close the Dodu-ri canal.
In Shindae-ri, resistance was so intense that the authorities failed to cut off the waterway.
Why such resistance?
The local residents have stood up against the relocation partly because of emotional reasons, and partly because of practical considerations. They have farmed the lands for generations and do not want to leave their home place. They also know that the compensation the government has offered would not be enough for them to settle in other places.
In Daechu-ri and Dodu-ri, where residents mounted particularly stubborn resistance, only 51 percent of the 297 households agreed to the terms of the governments land purchases. The rest has been forced to accept the governments offers by the court. At present, approximately 700,000 pyeong is deposited with the court.
The holdout residents complainingly point out, The compensation from the government is about 140,000 won per pyeong. But land price in neighboring areas, which do not belong to the relocation plan, is 200,000 to 300,000 won per pyeong. We dont want to leave the place where we have lived generation after generation.
The Defense Ministry, however, responds with, The ministry has offered a variety of options, but its the local residents who reject them. It is the anti-American military presence outsiders who cause a stir among the locals most of the time.
The government has placed several options on the table under the Special Law on Pyeongtaek Residents Assistance. Two of them are: the building of three new settlements by authorities and the choosing by local farmers to farm lands in Hyundai Engineering and Construction-owned lands in Seosan, South Chungcheong Province.
The Defense Ministry said, Construction will start in July. The ministry will step up its efforts in order to not fall behind schedule.