[Reportage] Another massive police operation leaves fourteen elderly residents

Posted on : 2014-06-12 16:27 KST Modified on : 2014-06-12 16:27 KST
Authorities and police opt for force over dialogue, tear down four Miryang sit-in camps
 June 11. (By Ryu Woo-jong
June 11. (By Ryu Woo-jong

By Kim Young-dong and Lee Jae-uk, staff reporters in Miryang

Dust and dirt drift down on the graying hair of the old women. Tears keep sliding past the wrinkles around their eyes.

“My family has been living here for generations. Where am I supposed to go?” shouted an old man, who was dragged out of the hut, his arms and legs held by six riot police who had rushed him all at once.

On June 11, city government and police of Miryang in South Gyeongsang Province forcibly removed the local residents, who had been holding sit-ins against the construction of 765kV high-voltage electricity transmission towers.

 staff photographer)
staff photographer)


From 6 a.m. until 6 p.m., 200 employees of Miryang and an estimated 2,000 riot police from 20 companies were mobilized as an act of vicarious administrative execution to break up the sit-ins. Local residents had set up four camps at the construction site intended for four electric towers (No. 101, No. 115, No. 127, and No. 129) within the city limits of Miryang including the townships of Bubuk, Sangdong, Sanoe, and Danjang. At the entrance to these sites, the protestors have erected four huts, blocking construction from moving forward.

On June 11, all four of the sit-in camps and three of the huts were forcibly removed. Only one hut remains at Geumgok Village in Danjang Township, since its presence is not seen by the government as interfering with electricity transmission tower construction.

Residents, primarily in their 70s and 80s, and activists from civic groups resisted by chaining their bodies, but it was no use. In the process, 14 of the residents, including 87-year-old Kim Nam-sun, were injured or fainted and taken to the hospital. In addition, two elderly women residents were arrested by police for obstruction of justice. Among them, 77-year-old Park Sun-yeon, flung feces at the police.

The forcible demolition began at the Jangdong Village Hut in Bubuk Township, situated at the entrance to the planned construction site for the No. 127 and No. 129 towers.

At 6 a.m. riot police and city employees delivered warrants, which authorized the tearing down of the camp as an act of vicarious administrative execution, to ten residents who were guarding the Jangdong Village Hut. A city official said, “A written notice had been sent ordering that the illegal structures in the possession of the Miryang Measures Committee be removed by June 2, and since this order was not carried out within the designated period of time, you are hereby notified that we will be removing the structures in your place.”

The residents resisted, throwing excrement at the city employees, but it was not long before they were dragged from the hut. Ku Deok-soon, an 80-year-old woman resident, was seized by eight women police, and cried, “I have been farming here my whole life, and I mean to die here.” Ku added, “Don‘t make my life so difficult.”

Kwon Yong-gil, the 77-year-old head of nearby Pyeongbat Village, said, “KEPCO used compensation to sow discord among the residents of the community, who had been living in harmony.” Kwon explained, “The residents are divided by money. My children are supposed to live here, and I don’t need their damn money. Give us our village back the way it used to be.”

The removal of the huts took 30 minutes, and afterward the Miryang city government employees and riot police proceeded with removing the sit-in site at the future site of electricity transmission tower No. 129. Approximately 50 civic group members and local residents linked arms to resist, but as riot police broke through the line the protestors were seized and summarily carried outside the camp.

Several residents who were resisting in their underclothes were dragged out of the hut wrapped in blankets. The residents had wrapped chains around their bodies to remain in place, but the police cut the chains with bolt cutters. “The government doesn‘t care about the residents of Miryang and is using force to hold us down,” shouted one one 80-year-old woman resident surnamed Park. She stated, “The current government is illegal and should be removed.”

Meanwhile, the residents guarding the nearby sit-in camp at the construction site of electricity transmission towers No. 127 shouted in support of the protestors at No. 129. After an hour, when the No. 129 sit-in site was torn down, five elderly women at the No. 127 site, who had wrapped chains around their necks and waists, started to cry. Son Hui-gyeong, a 79-year-old woman resident, who had been active in the sit-in site every day for nearly a year sobbed, “I thought it would be enough just to guard the sites.”

Ten nuns from the Holy Family Convent in Seoul tried to comfort the old women by saying, “Don’t hurt yourself; God will take care of us.” Son‘s tears continued to flow.

At 8:46 a.m., city employees and riot police attacked the camp at tower No. 127. It took less than an hour for them to tear down the sit-in site. After dragging the residents away from the site, the police officers created a human chain, preventing them from re-entering. KEPCO and city employees entered into the circle, and with police protection, they proceeded to disassemble the sit-in site. In the scuffle, workers trampled the flower garden that had been planted in front of the camp.



At noon, nuns were singing hymns at the sit-in camp at the construction site of tower No. 115 in Gojeong Village in Sangdong Township. The activists from the civic groups erected a cross made from tree branches, and created an altar from cardboard boxes in order to hold mass. Only five minutes into the ceremony, the riot police and city government employees showed up and dragged out the protestors and tore down the sit-in site.

Jeon Chun-ja, a 74-year-old woman resident from Godap Village screamed, “Let go, let go of me! I can move myself,” but her voice was drowned in the shouts of police officers ordering their subordinates to drag away the protestors.

Another resident of Godap Village, 80-year-old Jang Hye-chun, yelled, “This is an outrage. I’m furious.” He vented his anger further asking, “The government should save people‘s lives, so why are they trying to kill us old folks like this? They can do this, but I am going to curse the electronic transmission towers for the rest of my life.”

Before long, all traces of the sit-in site were gone, except for a hole that the protestors had dug to help them defend it. Here and there, protestors were sobbing, unable to believe that it was really over.

Analysts contend the reason that the construction project to build the 765kV high voltage electricity transmission towers, which began in 2000, ended on June 11 with the forcible demolition of the sit-in sites housed by protesting residents was because the Korean government and KEPCO did not do enough to communicate with the residents of the area, thus failing to gain their trust.

The residents called for dialogue to find a solution, but the government and KEPCO insisted on the necessity of the construction of the electricity towers in the national electricity supply plan and responded with only offers of minor monetary compensation. As time passed, the conflict between the two sides intensified. During this process, the construction plan faced staunch opposition, and two residents of Miryang committing suicide in protest on Jan. 16, 2012, and Dec. 2, 2013. KEPCO was forced to stop and restart construction twelve times. As a consequence, the scheduled date of completion for the project was pushed back from the original date of 2012 to the end of 2014. If the government had deliberated with residents in the early phase of the project to find an acceptable way forward, construction would not have dragged on this long.

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