| Published on Tuesday, May 9, 2006 by CommonDreams.org |
Korean Farmers Say No to Giant US Base
Sixty South Korean activists will face criminal charges after they attacked police as part of a thousand-strong protest against a government plan to expand a U.S. military base in Pyongtaek, about an hour's drive south of Seoul.
According to press reports, clashes came after Army engineers on Thursday cordoned off two townships where the U.S. military is expanding a giant base called Camp Humphreys.
Thousands of elderly rice farmers will be evicted as part of the plan. Ironically, this is the second time many of them will have to move for the American military.
"During the Korean War, our land was stolen by the U.S. Army," 80-year-old farmer Pong Wan Chul told me on a visit in 2003. "They drove a bulldozer to kick us out. There was nothing we could do. I had a barn for my cow. They pushed the barn with their bulldozer, so the cow ran away. We had a terrible situation, and again they want to kick us out. But we don't want it. Where should we move!? Why should we move!?"
In 2003, Pong Wan Chul told me he would lie down in the middle of the road before losing his land again, and most of his fellow villagers agreed.
Over the years, they had rebuilt their lives and started new farms. But it was difficult with the American base next door. In 2003, I climbed into the area's irrigation canals with rice farmer Chong Tay Wah. They were filled with untreated oil run-off from the U.S. base.
"When the water comes from the U.S. base, the river turns black," he explained, "and when it doesn't rain much, the water is really, really black. This is the water that we use for our farming. Before, we could fish from the streams, but now we can't because the fish all smell like oil and they're black. It was very delicious before. I caught the fish and ate them, but it's all over now."
Under the Status of Forces Agreement that governs the American Army in South Korea, the U.S. military is exempt from most environmental laws.
Rice farmer Cong Taw Wah told me that most of the time the farmers had to clean up after the Army.
"When the oil is released into the stream, we take the oil out of the stream," he said. "We put on rubber clothes, and we float paper on the stream. Because of the polluted water, when we enter the water we get hurt. It looks like mosquito bites. Our whole leg turns red. Then we burn the paper in a big fire, and the smoke goes up in the air."
Today, the U.S. military maintains 96 bases in South Korea – a number the Pentagon would like to cut in half. But the Pentagon's plans won't mean fewer U.S. troops in South Korea – American soldiers are simply being called in from all over the country to a new military base at Camp Humphreys that will be more than half the size of San Francisco.
This, needless to say, is no way to make friends.
Pacifica radio network reporter Aaron Glantz is author of the new book "How America Lost Iraq" (Tarcher/Penguin). More information at www.aaronglantz.com