Residents of a farming village near Camp Humphreys are ready to face
arrest, even death, rather than let South Korea’s government move them
off their land, a Catholic priest helping lead the resistance said Tuesday.
The government wants the residents out so the U.S. military eventually
can triple Camp Humphreys’ size, making it the main U.S. installation
on the peninsula.
The Rev. Mun Jeong-hyun’s comments came one day after government officials
under heavy police escort aborted their attempt to serve an eviction notice
on those occupying the grounds of the Daechu-ri Elementary School, a short distance
from Camp Humphreys’ fence line.
Mun said the resisters expect further attempts to oust them from the school
and Daechu-ri village, possibly by force. “But if they do,” he said,
“I think the villagers, including me, are ready to be dead.”
He acknowledged the government likely would prevail should it use force. But
if residents were killed or seriously injured, he predicted, authorities would
face public scrutiny and incur lasting public censure.
They will be ashamed,” Mun said.
Although residents could be forced out, he said, “We don’t care.
At a certain period, the truth will come up and we will be ‘victory.’
That is our expectation.”
No injuries were reported in Monday’s confrontation, in which police
and resisters scuffled. Officials abandoned the effort to serve the eviction
notice, fearing the scuffling would trigger more serious violence, police said
But they said they’re weighing their next moves. And South Korean news
reports stated the Ministry of National Defense reportedly plans to seal off
about 2,000 acres — a tract that includes Daechu-ri — with barbed
wire fencing and security checkpoints.
The reports said the ministry also plans other measures to thwart holdouts
from resuming farming later this month, the farming season’s traditional
The ministry on March 3 neither disputed nor confirmed the reports. It since
has said it would issue a statement on the matter this week.
Of about 144 households in Daechu-ri before the government began its land purchases
in 2005, about half have left and about 70 households remain, Mun said.
Because it borders Camp Humphreys, Daechu-ri has become a center for opponents
of the base’s expansion. Resisters have turned the school grounds into
a makeshift headquarters.
Standing prominently along the village’s roadsides and in the fields
are banners and placards bearing slogans opposing the expansion and the U.S.
military presence in South Korea. The school compound is festooned with such
Male villagers man informal security checkpoints on the roads, warming themselves
at fires and watching for police or others associated with the government or
the U.S. military. No firearms or other weapons were visible at the checkpoints
or inside the school grounds.
When a Stars and Stripes reporter was escorted into the village Tuesday night,
close associates of leaders displayed guarded civility. But few residents offered
smiles; most seemed careful to avoid eye contact.
To block attempts to enter the compound, resisters have parked a thick cluster
of tractors and other vehicles behind the front gate, which was sandbagged and
otherwise fortified against entry.
The two-story school building is green and white. Its windows bear local artists’
paintings of village residents. The interior is scuffed, dusty and in general
disrepair; a creaky wooden staircase leads to the second floor.
One room is set up as a Buddhist worship space with a statue of Buddha positioned
on an altar.
Outside, just yards from the school’s front entrance, is a long, hut-like
structure covered in clear plastic sheeting. Inside, several people sit on the
ground in what look to be attitudes of prayer or mediation.
The farmers have drawn the backing of a network of South Korean activist groups,
including the Pan-Korean National Task Force Against Expansion of U.S. Bases
in Pyeongtaek. The task force said Monday it would continue to support the holdouts
and maintain its opposition to the Camp Humphreys expansion.
Mun said many of the remaining villagers felt themselves too old or poor to
seek new homes and also felt the government cared little for them.
“Even though we are a little person,” he said, “we don’t
want to be despised by the government.”