[Editorial] Destruction of Gangjeong Village tents warrants more than limp regret

Posted on : 2015-02-02 18:02 KST Modified on : 2015-02-02 18:02 KST
 Jan. 31. Snowcapped Halla Mountain is seen in the background. They were talked down 14 hours later after some scuffles with police. (by Kim Bong-kyu
Jan. 31. Snowcapped Halla Mountain is seen in the background. They were talked down 14 hours later after some scuffles with police. (by Kim Bong-kyu

The Ministry of National Defense took action on Jan. 31 to tear down tents set up by residents of Jeju‘s Gangjeong village to protest at the entrance of the site where a naval base family housing is being constructed. This comes 99 days after the tents were first put up on Oct. 25. In the process, a clash broke out between local residents and 1,000 or so police and hired security forces, resulting in both minor and serious injuries. Twenty-four residents and activists were hauled off to jail. Some opponents of the housing’s construction climbed up an eight-meter watchtower and chained themselves together. They were talked down 14 hours later by Bishop Peter Kang U-il of the Jeju diocese, and there were fortunately no more injuries.

The responsibility for this incident lies chiefly with the navy, which has gone ahead with building the housing in neglect of resident opinions. Villagers in Gangjeong contend that the navy had not kept its promise early this year to build the housing in the village with the consent of residents. Indeed, Navy Chief of Staff Hwang Ki-chul told villagers in Nov. 2013 that the navy would “engage in genuine conversation and dialogue with residents going ahead and work to put to rest the distrust and misunderstandings from the construction process so far and proceed toward reconciliation and harmony.” That same navy then turned around and pushed ahead with the housing construction.

An even bigger problem is the navy’s rejection of the province’s attempts to intercede. Last month, Jeju government offered a possible alternative with a suitable site on the outskirts of Gangjeong Village. It also pledged active administrative support for the construction to go ahead swiftly if the navy agreed. The navy refused, ruling the province’s proposal unacceptable because it would not be able to finish building the housing by Dec. 2015. To nail down a deadline and refuse any compromise if you can’t meet it is to impose a one-way traffic approach that leaves no place for reaching an agreement through dialogue and debate. The fact that Jeju actually found a suitable location, and was turned down by the navy over the schedule, says all we need to know about how deaf the military is to public sentiment.

Jeju Gov. Won Hee-ryong has called the navy’s demolition of the protest site “dismaying and unfortunate.” But this is not a situation that can be put to rest with a limp expression of regret. Won needs to put his governorship on the line to show he’s ready to take action and solve the problem. It goes without saying that as commander-in-chief, President Park Geun-hye bears ultimate responsibility for the conflict and clashing the demolition caused.


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