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Korean Navy defies governor and begins blasting in Jeju

HONG KONG (SE): Woo Keun-Min, the governor of Jeju province in South Korea, sent a formal notice to the chief of the navy on March 5, ordering it to suspend all blasting at the construction site of a major military base at Gureombi and Gangjeong in his province.

However, despite the order of the governing authority of the territory, the naval forces went ahead and, on March 7, began to blast the Gueombi Rock, the Hong Kong-based Asian Centre for the Progress of Peoples told the Sunday Examiner.

The base has been the point of both national and international outcry on the island, which was recently included on the list of the New Seven Wonders of Nature.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence said, “The navy will take part in a hearing if the Jeju governor orders a halt (and investigation), but it will continue the blasting work... We’ll have the construction minister annul the order.”

Such an annulment is possible by the law, but only if the order of the local authority is deemed to be detrimental to the public interest, another ministry official commented.

The government has stated verbally and demonstrated by its actions that it is determined to continue the destruction on Jeju Island, despite residents’ strong resistance and scientific evidence of the irreversible impact that will be brought by the construction of the naval base.

Protests against the base have been going on since 2007, although people, including priests and residents, have been arrested and violently dispersed.

The anti-naval base group declared it would try to physically stop the blasting and the construction.

The Ministry for Defence seems to be willing to usurp the authority of the governor of the province on the basis of a hearing that to date has not been held.

In October 2011, a group of concerned Catholics in Korea issued a statement signed by 964 priests, 2,664 women religious and 107 men religious, announcing that in the name of “Jesus Christ and faith,” they oppose the naval base construction on The Island of Peace.

Priests have been arrested for their participation in the protests and two received suspended sentences.

Bishop Matthias Ri Long-hoon, from the Justice and Peace Commission, also called the March 11 arrest of two clergymen, Jesuit Father Joseph Kim Jeong-uk and Reverend Lee Jeong-hun, for breaking into the office of a construction company on the naval project site, a violation of their rights.

“The arrested clergymen were using their basic rights of resistance for the sake of justice,” UCA News quoted the bishop as saying. “The state has used every method of manipulation and illegality for construction of the naval base.”

Bishop Peter Kang Woo-Il, from Jeju, said, “As the general election draws closer, you get the feeling that the government is trying to make the building of the Jeju naval base into something set in stone before it can be affected by the election result. It is really sad and disappointing to see it being pushed so one-sidedly, without paying any attention to people’s voices.”

He continued, “When the National Assembly cut the Jeju naval base construction budget by 96 per cent late last year, it was voicing the legislature’s view that there were too many problems with the design and other aspects, and that construction should not be carried out until it had been reexamined,” Hankyoreh News quoted the bishop as saying.

“I can’t understand why the government is refusing to communicate with the people and making these decisions,” the bishop added. “We’re not living under a dictatorship.”

He pointed out, “The central government has recognised the administrative autonomy and independence of Jeju Special Self-Governing Province.”

The secretary general of the National Council of Churches, Reverend Kim Young-ju, said that the two clergymen, as well as 16 people picked up on March 12, including three diocesan priests, for trespassing on the construction site, should all be released and charges dropped.

‘I can’t understand why the government is refusing to communicate’

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