The preparations for building a naval base on Jeju Island got under way on Wednesday amid protests from activists and local residents.
The contractors began demolition work by removing parts of the 1.2 kilometer rock outcrop and existing breakwater features to clear the way for construction of the base.
Those opposing the base construction claim that the outcropping, which they refer to as “Gureombi Rock,” has high geological value as it is the country’s only wetland formed in a rocky environment.
The contractors were met by hundreds of activists, about 100 of whom chained themselves to vehicles in an effort to deny them access to the construction site.
|Jeju council member Kim Young-shim of the Unified Progressive Party is taken away by the police after she tried to stop vehicles barricading a bridge near the site of the Jeju naval base from being towed away on Wednesday. The contractors building the base began demolition work to remove rocks and man-made features from the area. (Yonhap News)|
However, the barricade was quickly removed by the police as about 12 participants, including Jeju council member Kim Young-shim of the Unified Progressive Party, were removed from the scene.
Although the demolition of the rock itself was delayed, the first explosion was carried out at about 11:20 a.m. as the contractors began clearing the existing breakwater features in the area.
In response, the Jeju government has begun taking steps to halt the work.
The island government has requested the Navy’s cooperation, saying that it will issue an order for a temporary cessation of the work until a “clear judgment” can be made on whether two 150,000-ton cruise ships can dock at the facility.
The Jeju government also said it will hold a hearing in accordance with the Public Waters Management Act and requested the Navy to halt all work for the duration of the process.
“The governor can issue an order to stop the work, but the Minister of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs has the authority to overrule it if the order is deemed unjustified,” a Ministry of National Defense official said. He also said that the Jeju governor can intervene as the planned facility is designed to serve military and civilian purposes. Under the Special Act on the Establishment of Jeju Special Self-governing Province and the Development of Free International City, the Jeju government’s autonomy does not extend to foreign affairs, defense and judicial matters.
In a statement, the ministry said that while it will cooperate with the hearing process, the construction will be conducted according to plan.
The ministry also said that it will draw up countermeasures in accordance with related procedures if the Jeju government issues administrative orders to stop the construction.
While the protesters say that “Gureombi Rock” needs to be protected, the Ministry of National Defense says that such a landscape is found all across Jeju Island, and that only a limited part of the area will be demolished.
“There is no such thing as a special Gureombi Rock. The term refers to a rocky outcropping where gureombi trees are found. Such rocks can be found everywhere on Jeju,” the Defense Ministry’s spokesman said in a recent press briefing.
According to the ministry, the “Gureombi Rock” is named after the gureombi tree, which is commonly found in Jeju and the southern coast of Korea. Gureombi is an evergreen belonging to the same family as laurels and are found in Jeju and other southern areas of Korea.
“The majority (of the outcropping) will be conserved, and there are many cases where similar rocks were removed in the process of expanding ports on Jeju.”
Although the plans for the naval base, which the government refers to a military-civilian tourism port, were confirmed by the government on Feb. 29. Those opposing the facility have continued to fight the process.
At the time, the Prime Minister’s Office said that simulations have shown that the design of the facility allowed for two 150,000-ton cruise ships and that some changes will be made to accommodate the demands of the opposition.
However, those opposing the facility argue that the simulations, carried out by the Korea Maritime University on behalf of the Defense Ministry from December to February, could not be trusted to be unbiased.
As it tries to stop or delay the construction of the facility, the Jeju government on Tuesday requested that the work be halted and that it and the Navy collaborate in verifying the plans again.
By Choi He-suk (firstname.lastname@example.org)