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Ministers renew call for activists to drop protests over naval base

The two ministers of defense and land, transport and maritime affairs on Tuesday renewed calls for civic groups to halt opposition to a strategic naval base being constructed on Jeju Island.

They made a joint statement two days after a Jeju court accepted the petition the government and the Navy filed to stop villagers and civic groups from impeding construction.

“The government hopes that as the naval project proceeds smoothly, it would help benefit the nation as well as the people of Jeju,” Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin and Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs Minister Kwon Do-yeop said in the statement.

“At a time when the conflict among residents in Gangjeong Village deepens, we strongly urge outside organizations to stop any activities to oppose the project.”

Since Gangjeong Village in Seogwipo of Jeju Special Self-Governing Province was designated as the site of the 977.6 billion won ($913 million) project in June 2007, controversy over it has persisted with both sides refusing to budge.

“The government respects the court’s reasonable judgment (to accept the petition). It is undesirable to postpone the construction any more given that it is an important national project,” the statement said.

“Once again, we stress that the project is needed for the development of Gangjeong Village and the province, for securing the maritime traffic routes in the southern sea and for the national security and interests.”

The ministers also said that the government is working on developing a “comprehensive” plan to help the province “enter a new development phase” with the construction of the naval base.

Military officials have claimed that the construction is necessary to properly cope with contingencies in the southern sea area, secure the country’s maritime transportation routes and help boost the regional economy.

But opponents argue that the planned installation could lead to the militarization of the island, which the government designated an “Island of World Peace” in 2005. They also claim that the base would cause environmental degradation of the island famous for many tourist attractions.

The conflict-ridden project calls for establishing a “military-civilian” compound on the island, 90 kilometers off the peninsula’s south coast, to provide piers and other related facilities to dock a mobile fleet of up to 20 naval vessels and two 150,000-ton cruisers.

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)
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