Faced with Repression and Displacement, A South Korean Farming Community Declares Autonomy and Demands U.S. Military Withdrawal
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From the Autonomous Village of Daechuri, South Korea
The farmers of the Daechuri – Peyongteak region had been protesting the presence of the U.S. military for years. The growing movement to demand the withdrawal of United States military has become a popular and uniting effort for many South Koreans, seeking political and economic freedom and the opportunity for peaceful reconciliation with North Korea. Far from listening to the will of the people, the United States military has decided to expand its base, a plan that requires the forced or coerced removal of the farming community of Daechuri, Peyongteak. Acknowledging the complicity of the Korean government with this plan, the farming village decided to take back their own sovereignty, renounced their Korean citizenship, returned their resident registration cards to the city government and declared their community an autonomous region.
2/12/05 The rally on Sunday
Hundreds of riot police lined the streets of Daechuri to confront the 1,000 protestors gathered on the grounds of the elementary school that had been converted to the headquarters of the struggle for Daechuri’s independence. In the schoolyard, a large stage had been constructed of straw bales and there were performances of traditional drums and ancient rituals for the harvest followed by speeches, fist pumping and cheering. The crowd was amazingly diverse. There were infants, the elderly, farmers, and urban folk. There was a group from Okinawa there in solidarity. The aim of the people is simple and direct: to keep their land and livelihood and drive the US military out. The farmers of Daechuri have vowed to die here, on their land, before being pushed out for the sake of U.S. imperial military strategy.
After the rally people marched out onto the frozen rice paddies, to a place that looks directly upon the Humphreys military base. Several thousand protestors were confronted by some 10,000 Korean riot police.
The people made a circle around a structure that resembled a huge Christmas tree. There were a few brief speeches. The people danced in wide circles to traditional drumming. Then the structure was set on fire so as to banish evil spirits from their midsts. The farmers were clear, though, that the evil spirits they were banishing were those of the US military occupation of Korea.
This was followed by a candle light vigil.
While Korean riot police have been heavily mobilized against the uprising, they have so far been restrained lately due to enormous public outrage last November/December when two farmers were beaten to death in street protests in Seoul.
The Peyongteak region of South Korea, just over an hour south of the southernmost boundary of Seoul, is heavily agricultural. High-rise population centers are separated by vast stretches of rice fields and vegetable plots. Roads are often no more than thin concrete ribbons through a seemingly endless sea of rice paddies. From March until late October, one can see villagers, young and old, working communally, as they have always done, in the surrounding rice fields against the idyllic backdrop of the gentle mountains and rich pine forests that characterize much of the Korean peninsula.
This region has also been an occupied land, first by the Japanese imperial military, and later by the United States military, for over 100 years.
The United States currently holds 96 bases in South Korea which occupy over 74 million pyong of Korean land (1 pyong = about 6 square feet). The base at Anjungri, known as Camp Humphreys, was first a Japanese colonial base covering between 300,000 - 400,000 pyong, all of which was forcibly stolen from villagers who have never received any compensation whatsoever. When the Americans moved into Anjungri, they expanded the base, again involuntarily displacing the farmers of 6 surrounding villages. Today, Camp Humphreys covers 1.5 million pyong.
Nearby, in Songtan, the United States Airforce holds the massive, 2 million pyong, Osan Air Base that was built in 1952 at the height of the Korean War. Here, in the winter of that year, farmers from 4 villages were forced off their land with no compensation. Many, whose families had farmed this region for generations, had nowhere else to go, and so spent the harsh Korean winter in a few miserable tents on the banks of Jinwooi stream.
The US is now relocating its forces on the Korean Peninsula as part of its "Global Posture Review" (GPR) plan. From the various scattered bases all over the peninsula, forces will be concentrated in Peyongteak, at Humphreys/Osan and in the southern part of the peninsula, at Busan/Daegu. Here, in Peyongteak, the military has announced that some 3.5 million pyong of land is needed for expansion and will be taken over.
Proposal for International Solidarity Action
1. Please send e-mails or letters to the South Korean and US governments.
Please adopt the petition against the Expansion of US Military Bases to prevent the forced takeover of land from farmers and preparations for war. Please send it to the Korean or US Embassy in your area.
Your messages of encouragement will energize and empower residents in support of the Pyeongtaek struggle.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Fax : 82- 02-723-7059 (The National Campaign for Eradication of Crimes by U.S.Troops in Korea)
Address: Pyeongtaek Residents Action Committee
DaeChu Primary School, 160- 12 Daechu-ri, Paengseong-eup, Pyeongtaek-si Gyeonggi-do, South Korea
* "We oppose Pyeongtaek military expansion!"
* "We oppose the use of farmers land for US military bases!"
* "Do not steal farmers land!"
* " We oppose the US military who threatens peace and life!"