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Rock blasting draws fire

Protests set to intensify against construction of Jeju naval base

Police blocking the way to the naval base site at Gangjeong village in Jeju island.
Police blocking the way to the naval base site at Gangjeong village in Jeju island.
  • Stephen Hong, Seoul
  • Korea
  • March 8, 2012
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Protests against the building of a naval base on a resort island looked set to intensify yesterday after construction work began with the blasting of a rocky outcrop which environmentalists say has immense ecological value.

The blasting on the 1-2 km-long volcanic outcrop on Jeju island instantly drew a wave of protests with several leading politicians including Han Myeong-sook of the main opposition Democratic Unity Party flying to the island.

“The government does not listen to people’s crying to stop the project but encourages conflict,” Han said after hearing about the blasting.

Opponents of the base say the outcrop, which is known locally as “Gureombi”, should be protected as it comes under a UNESCO designated world biosphere reserve.

But the defense ministry says the base is desperately needed for national security and ecology would not be seriously affected since there are many similar rock formations around the islands.

The blasting went ahead despite an appeal from Jeju provincial governor Woo Keun-min to the government, urging it to suspend work and citing the possibility of civil conflict.

The provincial government later sent an official letter to the navy, saying it plans to issue an administrative order to stop construction until a further inspection on the project is carried out.

However, a defense ministry spokesperson replied that construction will continue, and that the ministry will draw up “countermeasures” if the Jeju government issues the order.

Protesters, including churchmen, who have been staging demonstrations outside the construction site for many months have vowed to continue their protests.

Anticipating further trouble, the government has dispatched around 1,000 policemen to Jeju to try and maintain order.

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