Seoul, Korea (Nov. 21, 2006)American peace activists Cindy Sheehan and Medea Benjamin are holding a press conference at 1:30 pm on Tuesday, November 21 at Gate No. 5 at the Yongsan U.S. Military Base in Seoul, Korea. Their request to meet with the U.S. Commander in Chief of the U.S. Forces in Korea to discuss the U.S. military expansion in Pyongtaek, Korea was rejected.
The delegation of 18, who is in Korea from November 20 to November 24, includes students, journalists, and peace activists and members of Working Families Party, Veterans for Peace, CodePink, Global Exchange, and Gold Star Families for Peace. They are here to protest the U.S. expansion of its military base in Pyongtaek and the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement.
On Monday, November 20, the delegation traveled by bus to the village of Daechuri, a farming town adjacent to Camp Humphreys, the U.S. military base in Pyongtaek city. The villagers have been resisting relocation for over three years, withstanding brutal violence, repression and property damage by the South Korean government. The delegation was met by over 200 police in riot gear at the checkpoint established since the forced withdrawal of villagers from their homes. Only Daechuri residents with IDs are allowed in and out of the village. Due to the high profile American delegation and visible media presence, the U.S. delegation--after some delay--was allowed to pass through the heavily armed checkpoint.
The U.S. delegation joined over 100 Daechuri villagers, most elderly Korean farmers, for their 820th consecutive candlelight vigil. Since the U.S. base expansion was announced four years ago, many villagers of Daechuri and Doduri of Pyongtaek city have refused to hand over their farmlands and homes to the South Korean government. For over two years, villagers exhausted every legal channel and resisted relocation. The South Korean government sent in over 22,000 troops to erect razor wire fences around the farmland and demolished the majority of schools and homes.
According to Kim Suk Kyung, father of Kim Ji-Tae, the village leader who has been imprisoned for his vocal opposition, "No one has been compensated. If we were asked by the South Korean government to move for the cause of the Korean people, we would have done so, but not for the sake of the U.S. military."
"The U.S. military is out of control," said Cindy Sheehan. "It led to the death of my son in Iraq and it's destroying the lives of these villagers in Pyongtaek. We have to rein in our military, whose role should be to defend American people, not oppress other nations."
Medea Benjamin, founder of Code Pink, a U.S. women's peace organization, after the vigil said, "It's heartbreaking to see how the villagers have suffered because of plans to expand Camp Humphreys Base. If Americans had a chance to see how the expansion of this military base has devastated the lives of so many humble villagers, they would be outraged."
The Korea trip is organized and sponsored by Korean Americans against War and Neoliberalism, (KAWAN), a coalition of US based Korean organizations working to stop the passage of the FTA and the expansion of the U.S. military base.