Confrontations at the "Korean Vieques"
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Sat Jun 17 17:14:00 MDT 2000
Saturday, June 17 7:07 PM SGT
Protesters invade US base in South Korea
MAEHYANGRI, South Korea, June 17 (AFP) -
Hundreds of protesters opposed to a US bombing range in South Korea clashed
with riot police on Saturday leaving dozens of people hurt, witnesses said.
Protesters, who included local inhabitants, radical students and union
members, tore down fencing around the Koon-Ni range, near Mauhyangri, which
is used by the US air force for bombing and target practice.
About 500 protesters then breached police cordons inside Koon-Ni to get onto
the facility and started shouting: "Destroy the base."
It was the second violent protest in 11 days at Koon-Ni, on the western
coast about 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Seoul.
The demonstrations have come at a bad time for the South Korean authorities,
with the American military presence increasingly controversial as ties with
North Korea improve.
President Kim Dae-Jung defended the presence of 37,000 US troops in South
Korea during his historic summit this week with North Korean supreme leader
Most of those injured Saturday received blows from riot police wielding
batons and shields. Several were seen being led away with bleeding head
Anger built up during the day as police put up blockades to stop about 3,000
demonstrators getting near to the range to stage a rally.
Students and other radical demonstrators then climbed over nearby hills to
get to the perimeter fence. About 1,000 police were deployed inside the
perimeter in the failed attempt to keep out demonstrators.
Opponents chanted "Yankee Go Home" and "We don't need US troops here." Some
banners highlighted the success of the inter-Korean summit as a new reason
for the US forces to go home.
Local villagers are demanding the relocation of the 5,000 acrehectare)
range, which opened during the 1950-53 Korean War. They have rejected
government offers to be relocated.
They say that at least nine people have died in accidents linked to the
facility, including four children who were playing with an unexploded bomb
Exploding bombs and noise from US warplanes have caused roofs to cave in,
cracked walls and left many residents with hearing problems, they say.
Protestors also tried to tear down fences around Koon-Ni during the last
demonstration on June 6.
"We have been plagued by noise for 50 years. We cannot endure it any
longer," Oh Moyong-Hwang, a 44-year-old farmer who lived near the range,
told AFP in a recent interview.
The US military has about 37,000 troops in 20 bases in South Korea and
operates several ranges provided under a mutual defense pact.
Even before Kim Dae-Jung's three day visit to Pyongyang, which produced a
landmark accord to take measures to improve relations, the US military had
faced mounting public criticism over the social impact of their presence.
On Friday, a South Korean court sentenced a 22-year-old US soldier to eight
years in prison for the murder of a bar hostess. He remains in US military
custody until the sentence is confirmed by a higher court.
Political pressure is now expected to mount, however, after the summit as
the South Korean public are given greater freedom to show friendship toward
North Korea has been demanding the withdrawal of US forces ever since the
Korean War was halted with an armistice, but never formally ended.
But Washington and Seoul have insisted there was no question of an immediate
withdrawal. The South Korean president said he told the North's leader this
week the US presence was crucial for security throughout Northeast Asia.
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