| A group of activists who lived for up to two years in Daechuri and Doduri left their homes on April 9th, with the destruction of the villages already underway, on a Peace March from Daechuri to Seoul.|
They marched to denounce and mourn the destruction of Daechuri and Doduri (see previous post), to assert the right of Daechuri and Doduri villagers to return to their land, and to demand an end to the planned base expansion in Pyeongtaek. The activists (Pyeongtaek Jikimis, or “defenders”) held vigils every night in cities along their way. They were joined at their vigils by other opponents of the Pyeongtaek base expansion to sing, talk to local people about the base expansion, and give out out pea plant seeds from Daechuri gardens. The seeds are a symbol of Daechuri and Doduri as farming communities, and of the hope that Daechuri and Doduri farmers' struggle has inspired.
When the group arrived in Seoul on April 14th, they attempted to deliver a letter for President Roh at the Blue House (the presidential mansion). The group of around 20 marchers, plus some supporters and journalists, was stopped and surrounded on three sides by riot cops, with a police bus blocking the remaining side. A representative of the Blue House then held a bizarre negotiation with the Jikimis, first arguing that only a few people could go on to the Blue House to deliver the letter, then that no one could continue because the envelope contained seeds, making it not a real letter. When the Jikimis saw that the negotiations were a farce, they decided to send the letter through the mail, and held their protest and vigil right where they had been stopped. The activists talked about their experiences in Pyeongtaek, played the recorded voices of Daechuri villagers, and planted Pyeongtaek pea seeds in a flower garden that had conveniently been surrounded along with them by the riot cops.
The marchers continued the following day to the village of Ohyeoli (“O-hyeo-li”), another farming community threatened by displacement to expand a military facility. Ohyeoli villagers raise cattle, wheat, and rice north of Seoul (Daechuri is south of Seoul). In 1982 they were pushed off their land to make way for a Korean military training ground, much as Daechuri residents were forcibly relocated in the 1950s. In 1997, the training ground became a joint US-Korean facility.
Ever since Ohyeoli farmers's resettlement on nearby land, they have lived side by side with the largest live bomb training ground in East Asia. For 13 weeks of every year, the farmers are subjected to the sounds of booming explosions and tanks rumbling past their homes and fields. They aren't ever told in advance when the training will begin, but find out when they wake up in the morning and see riot police lined up alongside their village, to keep them out of the training area.
The training is more than an inconvenience, it's also dangerous. In 2002, two middle school girls were run over and killed near Ohyeoli by a tank on its way out of the training ground, in what became a major national incident. The soldiers responsible for the killing were found “not guilty” and released.
In 1996, the expansion of the training ground was announced. The new training ground will be double its current size, and over four times the size of the expanded base at Pyeongtaek. The site will be linked to the Pyeongtaek mega-base by military-use only train tracks.
Although the planned completion date was originally 2012, now the Korean government is trying to speed up the displacement of the Ohyeoli villagers in order to finish earlier. The villagers, who have been organizing their resistance to the training ground expansion for over ten years now, shared experiences with the Pyeongtaek activists during their visit.
Above photos: Military vehicles near Ohyeoli; Daechuri activists plant Daechuri pea seeds in Ohyeoli.
See previous post for more photos of the Jikimi march to Seoul.