British Ploughshares activist Angie Zelter has been in South Korea to support local activists in Jeju, an island and autonomous province south of the main Korean peninsula. They are attempting to stop construction of a naval base on the island’s south coast, which is slated to become a port for US Navy Aegis destroyers—part of the Pentagon’s “first strike” capability and targeted at China, just 500 km away. The village of Gangjeong, and its endangered soft-coral reefs, will be destroyed to build the base. Here we present excerpts from Angie’s email updates.
“Professor Yang Yoon-Mo is now on his 27th day of hunger strike in prison on Jeju Island in South Korea. He is back in jail for interrupting Navy construction vehicles. Last summer Yang, while in jail for lying down under a construction truck, was on hunger strike for 71 days, nearly dying and stopping only when Jeju’s Roman Catholic bishop convinced him to stop.
“He restarted his hunger strike when sent back to jail and vows to continue as long as necessary. He explained, ‘If Gureombi (the sacred rocky coastline) lives, I live. If Gureombi dies, I die. Do not cry for me. Cry for the future generations who may not be able to feel the beauty of Gureombi. Gureombi is the medium to connect myself and the sky. The self, the sky, Gureombi have become one. This commitment is a call from God.’”
“This was the day when not only more dynamite was to be delivered, but also when a right-wing conservative, nationalist, pro-base group would be coming over from the mainland to protest in favor of the base. The mayor was scared there would be violent confrontations and urged that we keep peaceful.
“After many people had spoken, including the leader of the major opposition party, the mayor once more asked for the Navy to come out and talk to us. With no response he then said we had to enter the base and lots of pushing and shoving began. At this I managed to join a small group of Catholics protesting at the base of the gate behind the main riot police line and somehow wriggled into the base via a small open door. A Korean Jesuit priest managed to get in after me but others were just too late and the police managed finally to push against the crowd and close the gate leaving me and the priest inside! I was able to stand very visibly on a high piece of ground, waving my Earth flag and the priest made a dash for the gate and clambered up it.”
“There must have been about 200 people gathered at the port and suddenly we set off and, overwhelming the few dozen police who were still protecting the entrance, we threaded our way past them and through some smallish tetra-pods (the location of which is not according to the development plans and are being challenged in the courts). We approached some razor wire, rocks and a huge concrete pier. One of the church ministers managed to scale the wall of the pier and get a rope down and so about 50 of us clambered over the rocks and up the rope. I am terrified of heights but with so much willing help I was soon hauled up by five or six strong men.
“The penalty for damaging the fence is very high and although everyone wanted the fence cut, no one was really ready to take the risks. So, I started cutting and made a hole big enough to get some people through. This first cut was a surprise to the police, and therefore several people managed to enter before the police interposed their bodies to stop more getting through. I went on to make other holes and as I worked police came to guard each hole. I made my way slowly down the fence cutting as much as I could each time.
“We must have cut at least 10 holes when it started getting dark. As night fell, Father Moon was eventually allowed inside the site and I quickly followed and was arrested at 7 p.m. for destruction of private property and trespass. I walked over the rocks to the police car as it would have been dangerous for the police to have to carry me on this occasion.”
Angie was arrested during the March 12 protests and threatened with deportation, but released after negotiating a pledge that she would not return to the construction site.
On March 19, without prior warning, and a day before a provincial government hearing, the Navy began to blast bedrock for the first time.
Angie Zelter is a nonviolent activist based in Wales. Her dispatches can be found on wri-irg.org and elsewhere.
See http://avaaz.org/en/save_jeju_island for more campaign info on the Jeju protests.