Third Report from Gangjeong
Yesterday we internationals went into Jeju City for a press conference so that the Mayor of Gangjeong could explain the situation and internationals could make statements as to why they were supporting the villagers struggle against war and for peace.
We then went to City Hall and the Global Network folk presented a letter to to the Governor of Jeju - you can see the letter at the end of this report. We held banners outside while the letter was delivered. A local supporter in the city then treated us to a wonderful lunch. The restaurant owner often goes to the village with food donations and is one of many Jeju Island supporters. As we were traveling back to Gangjeong we learned what a small place the island is - only around half a million people - many people being related or having gone to school together - and this means that local pressure can be applied even to the police. Maybe this is why there have been 6 changes of police chiefs in the last 7 months!
Over 1000 mainland police were drafted in last August/September last year and this is deeply worrying as mainland police have not been sent to Jeju since the 1948 massacre when they were implicated in the many tortures that were carried out. The pressure is definitely increasing as the resistance has grown and even though the last Jeju Island police chief had more than 100 villagers arrested in the last couple of months this has been seen as too lenient. Only 4 days ago he was replaced by a mainland police man from the riot police unit. This was after the President of South Korea stated that the naval base project must continue. There are elections this April for the National Assembly and we are informed that it is likely that opposition groups will get in and they have all pledged to review the project
. On arriving back to the village we went straight to the port as we were told the police had been preventing locals from taking canoes out to the Gureombi rocks to pray and four villagers including Mr. Cho Kyung-Chul (Co-vice mayor), Mr. Kim Gab- Deuk (a Village elder) and Mr. Kim Young- Woo and Mr. Kim Young-Sam had all been arrested. (A vigil is tasking place at the police station as I write). For more details, the facebook named No Naval Base on Jeju is reliable.
After taking a few pictures and handing my coat and boots to Miki (my Japanese friend) I grabbed a life-jacket and behind the backs of the police entered the water - it was not as cold as I had expected, luckily - and swam out to great cheers. This is something the local protesters often do but it was encouraging for them to see an international resisting too and this is what we are here for - to give encouragement to the locals who are tired out after 5 years of intense opposition.
Benjie soon joined me and he climbed onto some nearby tetra-pods (as the huge concrete blocks are called) while I went through the port entrance managing to avoid the police boats by keeping close to the rocks. The life-jacket enabled me to rest from time to time and after about half an hour I came across 2 local activists in their canoes who had been there a while and were determined to spend the night on the rocks. They took me a little further by canoe and I then continued on land around the razor wire being followed at all times by 3 or 4 riot police which meant I could not crawl through as before.
I had a chance to enjoy the star fish, crabs, and fish in the rock pools and the diving birds and also the many springs of fresh water that the area is famous for - protesting always has these special moments! A little later I saw a navy diver emerge from the water with a measuring tape - we think this must be preparations for further blasting.
Making my way back after a few hours I found Dr Song Kang Ho with a canoe. He is a strong and committed protester and features in the film you can see here. He offered me a lift back to the dock and said how much he and the village appreciated what I was doing and how it is energizing them. He said I was very brave - I certainly do not feel that way as it is much easier for internationals than for locals. But the genuine appreciation of the villagers has already made my stay here worthwhile and I thank all of you who have contributed and made this possible.
As we arrived back in the port we could see many canoes being held by police on their boats. I asked the Doctor to take me to the side of a police launch and I clambered clumsily aboard (I know I really need to lose some weight!) and went across to the policeman hanging on to a paddle and preventing the canoe from getting away. I asked him to stop preventing the peaceful protest and when he did not I started gently undoing his fingers and talking about the issues. Many of the police understand English. Another policeman hauled me off but I told him I was peaceful and smiled and he soon let me go and I quickly climbed up on the top of the cabin amid shouts to get down. I refused and kept clinging on to the railings until they had let the canoes go and then I agreed to get down and quickly jumped in the water again and swam ashore.
By this time I was shivering violently with the cold and it was getting dark, so went for a hot bath and sleep. I was exhausted. Today I am catching up on emails as the rest of the internationals go back home. I am glad I am free enough to be able to stay. Miki, will soon arrive back here to give me news of her visit to the prison in Jeju City where Prof. Yang Yoon-mo (who was arrested in December last year) is on his 20th day of hunger strike. Everyone is very worried about his health as he is still weakened by his previous 70 day hunger strike only last year. The repression is getting worse and outside observers and activists are needed. If you know of anyone who can come and join in the actions or as human rights observers then please let me know. Any letters that you can write to the US and South Korean Embassies in London would also be appreciated. Love Angie.