US Anti-War Campaigners to Protest US Base in Korea

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

( - American anti-war campaigners are heading to South Korea this weekend to join left-wing activists protesting the expansion of a U.S. military base.

Camp Humphreys, a base 45 miles south of Seoul, is being expanded three-fold to accommodate the headquarters of the U.S. Forces in Korea (USFK), which is moving out of the capital as part of a worldwide shift in the U.S. defense posture.

Under a bilateral agreement, the U.S. will relinquish some 170 million square meters of land across the country by 2011, include prime real estate in central Seoul. In return, South Korea will provide the USFK with 12 million square meters to expand Humphreys and a nearby airbase.

The earmarked land in Pyeongtaek incorporates several farming villages, many of whose residents left the area after the government paid them to vacate their homes.

Some contested the plan, however, and have linked up with anti-USFK protestors from elsewhere in the country.

Last week, the empty homes of those who accepted compensation were demolished by heavily-guarded Defense Ministry contractors, while protesting farmers and activists tried to block the work.

Several hundred protestors reportedly remain in the area, which was earlier designated a military zone, and a showdown is expected at some point. The latest in a series of large demonstration is being planned for Sunday.

A "progressive" South Korean protest group, Voice of People, says on its website that around 20 activists and 200 inhabitants of the area were "swearing to fight to the death."

In an opinion poll released by Prime Minister Han Myung-sook's office last May, 58 percent of respondents said the involvement of outside activists claiming to be supporting the remaining Pyeongtaek residents was politically motivated.

The South Korean protestors will be joined Sunday by members of the U.S. anti-war group, Veterans for Peace (VFP).

Five U.S. veterans, including two Korean War veterans, would "resist the South Korean government's efforts to remove farmers from their farms and turn their land over to the U.S. military for yet another military base," VFP said in a statement.

It said the veterans felt the base expansion violated the farmers' right to live peacefully and threatened peace on the Korean peninsula and in northeast Asia.

"We want to convey a strong message to the Korean people that there are concerned American veterans who not only oppose the unnecessary, wasteful expansion of the U.S. military base in Pyeongtaek but also call for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from South Korea," said VFP's John Kim.

The group also accused the U.S. of being "largely responsible" for the division of the peninsula.

Korea has been divided along the 38th parallel since an armistice ended the Korean War in July 1953. The frontier between the now democratic South and the Stalinist North is described as the world's most heavily-armed.

As part of the global defense posture adjustment aimed at making U.S. forces more effective in facing post-Cold War threats, the Pentagon in 2004 announced the base relocation plans.

USFK numbers would also be reduced from 37,000 to around 25,000 by September 2008, the Pentagon said. The cuts have begun, and current troop strength is around 30,000.

VFP, which strongly opposed the 2003 campaign to topple Iraq's Saddam Hussein, is campaigning for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice-President Cheney over the war.

Subscribe to the free daily E-Brief.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow