Japan Peace Conference 2004
Chair, Maehyang-ri Peopleﾕs Task Force for the Closure of U.S. Air Force Bombing Range
Republic of Korea
I would like to extend my gratitude to the people of Nagasaki Prefecture, who must be one of the peoples with the greatest desire for life and peaceful coexistence of peoples. I also want to thank the Conference organizers for giving me an opportunity to address the Conference on behalf of the people of a small village called Maehyang-ri. It is an honor and I feel very humble. I hope that the Conference will be successful in improving peopleﾕs lives across the globe and in helping us to better understand the precious value of peace.
We have waged our struggle in Maehyang-ri for the past 17 years, during which we've been through myriad of difficulties, including persecution by public authority. Yet the continuous struggle in solidarity with all walks of life of Korean society has finally won us the closure of the U.S. firing range called Koon-ni Bombing Range in our community. This is something that even our Presidents could not do. I am also happy to tell you that the media has reported that another U.S. firing range at Nong-sum Island off the coast of Maehyang-ri is going to be closed completely by August 2005.
There is another victory for the Maehyang-ri people. The Supreme Court of Korea has ruled in favor of a case that 14 Maehyang-ri residents had filed against the Korean government for their suffering caused by the noise from the U.S. military exercise. It is expected that the court will issue an order this December that compensation should be paid (approximately 13 billion Korean won) to the entire 2,350 Maehyang-ri residents. The victory was achieved after the 6 years of court struggle carried out with the help of Lee Suk-tae, representative of the Korean Association of Lawyers for Democracy and other dedicated and competent lawyers. We are planning to use this money to turn the range site (approximately 540 pyong, one pyong is about 3.3 m2) into a peace park with a peace resource center. We are also raising funds for this project from those also working for peace in other countries as well. Your contribution is greatly appreciated.
Korean people have suffered various oppressions of the governments of our own and of the United States of America, done under the name of national security and the U.S.-ROK Mutual Defense Treaty. But what we see happening in Maehyang-ri shows that people's struggle in solidarity for justice will prevail, and I truly hope that our case will give hope to and inspire all the people on this globe enduring the same kind of oppression.
The U.S. began the construction of a shooting range in Maehyang-ri in August 1951 during the Korean War. Without any legal authority, nor prior consultation or notice to us residents, U.S. bombers began target practices dropping bombs and shooting bullets on Gwibi-sum Island (named after its tortoise-like appearance), only 700 meters from where we lived. In 1954, under the U.S.-ROK Mutual Defense Treaty, the U.S. started to station their military forces in Maehyang-ri. In 1968, with the U.S.-ROK Administrative Agreement now effective, the U.S. confiscated an area of 8,000 feet in radius from Non-sum district, and an adjacent coastal area of 380,000 pyong. Maehyang-ri was thus established as a full-scale and practical international firing range of the U.S. military.
Maehyang-ri was one of the most attractive places in Asia for the U.S. military. It had everything you could ask for to conduct shooting drills. It was a hilly area with no high mountains and with very few foggy days to hinder pilots' view. It had the ocean right next to it so that a pilot could aim both sea and land targets in a single flight. Note that when a bomber drops bombs while turning on the sea, he would slip into an optic illusion, taking sea for land. A land on the sea could serve as a gun sight, reducing the risk of such illusion. It could also be a emergency landing site in case of the bomber's instrument getting out of order. In this regard, Maehyang-ri had a geographic advantage. And it was said that the runway of Osan Airfield located in an adjacent area was open toward the direction of Maehyang-ri, which could accommodate emergency landings of aircraft. What should not be overlooked here was, a civilian population were living in the surrounding area of Maehyang-ri bombing range.
Yet Maehyang-ri was an ideal place for U.S. pilots to go through trainings where they would play the game of chicken and get uplifting feelings as if in actual combat. Many U.S. bombers came flying not only from the bases in South Korea but also from Japan, Guam, Thailand, Okinawa, and the Philippines, as well as from aircraft carriers on the sea, to conduct bombing practices above people's houses night and day. The horrible noise reminded us of the air raids we had suffered during the war years. The range was open 13 hours a day, from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., during which some 200 to 400 drills could be made. Sometimes the practice started as early as at 7:45 a.m. and lasted until 4 a.m. the next morning. For the special training periods, the range would accommodate as many as 700 firing drills a day.
In July 1988, the U.S. military was compelled to conduct an investigation in response to the peopleﾕs complaints on the damage caused by the noise from practices in Koon-ni Firing Range. In its report to the Korean government, the U.S. military acknowledged the noise generated by the exercise had caused inconvenience and danger to the residents in their daily lives. The only rational solution one could think of to this problem was to relocate the range, but as the Korean government was well aware, the Koon-ni Bombing Range had too great a significance for the U.S. military. Besides, according to a U.S. Congress report issued in May 2002, the U.S. military training capability in Asia, Europe and Africa had degraded in the face of the growing anti-base movement of NGOs and citizens living around the bases because of the environmental and other problems caused by the U.S. military presence. Especially in South Korea, U.S. Air Force has obliged to reduce its drills due to the resistance in Maehyang-ri, and is now facing the need to readjust its war capability.
Basic Information on the Koon-ni Firing Range
(1) The Koon-ni Bombing Range belongs to the 51st Fighter Wing of the 7th U.S. Air Force stationed in South Korea, under the command of the U.S. Pacific Air Forces.
(2) Twelve types of combat aircraft take part in the training, such as A-10, F16, F-15, F-18 fighter bombers, carrier-borne aircraft, B-52 strategic bomber, C132 cargo aircraft with 130mm artilleries, and 5 types of attack helicopters including Apache.
(3) The exercise uses various types of warheads and their delivery systems, including 12 kilograms of dummy shells, 900 kilograms of live ammunitions, rocket artilleries, machine guns and laser rifles. Mock nuclear missile projection exercises are conducted about 5 to 6 times a year.
(4) Exercises are constantly conducted about 250 days a year, from Monday through Friday. On average one exercise lasts about 12 hours, with 2 to 4 different units taking part at 15 to 30 minutes' intervals. The number of firing amounts to 200 to 400 a day. The exercise starts at 9 a.m. and ends at 10 p.m. In summer, the range is open from 7:45 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Only on weekends, when there was no shooting practice, residents were able to, with restriction, go to their fields within the bombing range to farm and to the sea to fish in the daytime. With the closure of the strafing range, they are now able to work in the field from sunrise to sunset. However, they can only do so with prior permission and identity check at the main gate by the unit guards and Korean police. With myself being the Task Force Chair, my family members and I are not granted access to the range.
Extent of damage
The damage from the military exercise in the Maehyang-ri Bombing Range directly affects the lives of residents in 10 villages, namely, Maehyang 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Sukchun 3 and 4, and Leehwa 1,2 and 3. The total number of households of these villages reaches 800 with the population of about 3,000.
The residents in those directly affected area are constantly exposed to deafening noise throughout the year, from Monday through Friday, without any kind of protection. What is more, no measures are taken for the residents against the frequent life-threatening bombing accidents.
We have also suffered an irredeemable economic loss. When it constructed the firing range, the U.S. military confiscated 6.90 million pyong of sea area and 380,000 pyong of farming and forestry area for peanuts. Before the U.S. came, we almost entirely relied on farming and fishery for our income; the hilly area was rich in soil, and the sea with fish and shells was also suitable for seaweed farming. Fishing made up 90% of our local industry, and the U.S. confiscated almost the whole fishing ground, which was so rich that fish were everywhere under the sea. No word can explain what damage we had to suffer from the confiscation. Today, motorboats are available to go across the controlled area of the bombing range into the fishing ground in the distance, but it costs us a great deal.
Cases of Damage
1) Bombing accidents
The situation of Nong-sum Island and Gwibi-sum Island, both of which have been used as bombing targets, demonstrates the intensity of the drills. Gwibi-sum Island has blown off to pieces by the constant shooting of medium-sized live ammunitions, and in the place where the island should exist; you will only find some rocks.
Since August 1951, when the U.S. military started bombing drills, numerous cases of bombing accidents and explosion of unexploded ordinances have occurred. Of all, in only two cases that took place in 1989 and 1995, the victims were paid compensation, however small. 12 people have died and 21 injured by errant bomb attack or blind shell explosion.
The 10 directly affected villages are located within 4 kilometers of the land firing range and separated from it by barbed wires. The closest land targets are only 400 meters from the residential area. The Nong-sum Island, a sea target, is 1,300 meters away. Within the U.S. designated "danger zone," where the firing takes place, there are 2 villages, Maehyang 1 and 5, with about 200 households. Bombers come from inland flying low over the center of these villages and take sharp plunge toward their sea targets, firing machine guns. The roaring noise from the plane would shake the roofs and walls of dwellings; the loudest noise level in record is 150 decibels. The roar from the engine coupled with the earthshaking sound from firing is overwhelming, and even inside the house conversation is impossible. During the nighttime exercise, noise of aircraft and flash from flare bombs would make you feel as if you are in an actual combat zone. Residents, with their sleep disturbed, have been suffering from enormous stress.
School children are also affected by the drills. In the elementally school of Sukchun, a neighboring village of the Maehyang-ri community, it has become an everyday matter that the noise of aircraft disrupts the principalﾕs discourse at the morning assembly, or teachers' lectures in class. To insulate the school building from the noise, the Educational Board of Kyonggi-do Province double paned the windows. However, without air condition installed, school children continue to be exposed to noise in summer. The Maehyang Church closed its infant home after only two months of operation because of the noise. No one from other community can ever get used to such an extraordinary situation as the one we have gone through. For example, children visiting their relatives in Maehyang-ri got so scared by the noise that they cut short their stay in the village and left for home. Drivers unaccustomed to the noise lost lose control of the car, and even the riot police repressing the local demonstrators dropped their protection shields and walkie-talkies.
Brief History of People's Struggle in Maehyang-ri
As the military dictatorship finally ended in 1987 after years of people's struggle, Korean people's desire to build a democratic society matured. It was when, being a young man born and raised in Maehyang-ri as the eleventh generation of a family that had resided in the village, I took up the responsibility of organizing the villagers. Through careful planning and mobilizing efforts, I helped to rally the village's youth group, to raise awareness of the residents, and to get task force members elected from each village at the villagers' general assembly. In June 1988, the 10 local task forces got together to form a joint task force. Since then we have actively worked to put an end to the military exercise, presenting petitions to and lobbying the Kyonggi-do province government, National Defense Minister, Korean president, and parliament, as well as social and religious organizations.
In July 1988, in answering to an interview of a Korean national newspaper Han-Kyoreh, U.S. commander in charge of the Maehyang-ri Bombing Range, Lt. Com. C.W. Enderson acknowledged that the firing had caused damage to the locals. He insisted, however, that the range was the only place available for aerial shooting practice exclusive to the U.S. Air Force in South Korea, so that it had a vital role for maintaining their air fighting capability. He argued that Maehyang-ri was the optimal location in the entire Asia region for such drills. He went on to say that the issues of compensation for damage and relocation of the range were entirely Korea's domestic issues, and that the U.S. military was only a guest in South Korea.
It should be noted that the U.S. military police and the Korean security guards are provided with headphone gears to protect their hearing from the noise and with special glasses to protect their eyes from the blinding flashlights thrown off during laser gun drills. This stands as a stark contrast to the way the local civilian population is treated.
At a meeting on November 3, 1988, the Task Force decided to take actions, including takeover of the range, if there was no proposals from the Korean government by November 25 on drastic measures to mitigate our plight. Yet no response came from the government by the due date, so that on December 12, from 1 to 6 p.m., more than 700 Task Force members overwhelmed 700 strong police force deployed at the range, brought down the defensive wall and the barbed wire, went into the base and made themselves human shield against the firing targets. It was the first civilian takeover of a U.S. military base in Korean history. After announcing our demand to have our right to life guaranteed, we voluntarily ended the action.
On March 6, 1989 we again occupied the range (the range number 2), because we were still not getting any sincere response from the government. This time they sent out seven police troops, who brutally clubbed us with bludgeons and iron pipes, and dispersed our demonstration by force, injuring three residents. Faced with the continued violence by the police, I told the residents to arm themselves with kitchen knives and pickaxes in self-defense. And our do-or-die resistance finally stopped the bombing drill. The government responded to this with the dismissals of the head of local police and mayor of Hwa Sung County for their inability to deal with the resistance. And one day before dawn, the police broke into the houses of 12 Task Force members including myself as the chair while we were asleep, and unlawfully took us to the police station. And the people immediately staged protests against our arrest in fierce but well organized manner; even junior high students joined armed themselves with fire bottles. After 48 hours, all of us were released. On March 18, residents came back to take over Nong-sum, fueled the firing targets, and shouted "hurray!" This time a Korean military battalion armed with M-16 automatic rifles was sent in to crush us. We were taking a big risk but we were finally beginning to be heard. On March 21, a parliament member, Park Jiwon of then Democratic and Justice Party representing our region offered to mediate the dispute by arranging a meeting with the National Defense Minister and the Chair of the Parliament National Defense Committee. We gave him a pledge to refrain from demonstration.
The U.S. military authorities on March 22 denied the residents access to the firing range for "security reasons," which meant that we could not go to the field inside the range for farming although spring is the important farming season. This put us on the defensive. On April 26, we visited the National Defense Ministry to meet with the vice minister and other officials. They explained us about the government stance on our petitions for redress of the damage caused by the U.S. firing drills, but they made no commitment to drastic measures to solve the problem. We had to give in this time because we had to farm. In return for guarantees of access to the farm land inside the bombing range, we promised to refrain from resorting to direct actions.
For a while we totally devoted ourselves to springtime farming, constraining ourselves from conducting demonstration until one day in May 1989, when the U.S. forces dumped four truckloads of rock and earth and sand in paddy fields and seedbeds located inside the range. It was obviously an "act of intentional retaliation" against myself for having led the demonstrations. We rushed to the military base and demanded an apology from whoever was responsible for the act and restoration of the rice field. But we were again countered with violence; the U.S. soldiers indiscriminately clubbed us with baseball bats and paddles of their military boats. Infuriated by such outrage, we started around 9 p.m. that day destroying the main iron gate of Maehyang-ri Bombing Range, went into the base and knocked off the local police head of Ujung-ri police station Hwa Sung police department and some U.S. military personnel, who had been urgently called in. Finally we destroyed the radar facility, electronic equipments and other instruments, and 23 vehicles.
Col. H Link, then Commander of U.S. Forces stationed in Korea denied their sabotaging of our farming and the act of violence and threat against the demonstrators. He insisted that we residents trespassed into the range without permission, looted and vandalized the military properties. With regard to the destruction of my rice field with rocks and sand, he made a farfetched argument, saying that they were going to build a parking lot (Han-kyoreh, June 10, 1989).
As a consequence of the conflict, Task Force vice chair Paek Donghyun and myself were imprisoned for violating the Military Facility Protection Act, trespassing, property destruction, obstructing police officers from performing their special duty, inflicting injures and on some other charges. Apart from us, cases were built against some 50 Task Force members without arrest. Although it was obvious the responsibility of the conflict fell on the U.S. military, the Korean government, far from demanding an official apology from it, absolved it of all their wrongdoing, and imposed criminal punishment only on the residents, who were the victims. It made us wonder whom this government in fact represented. Paek and I were sentenced with 1 year and 6 months in prison at the initial trial. After serving 8 months in prison, we were released on probation with the ruling of a higher court. The consequences were grave. The months-long take-over and the demonstrations we continued with our lives at risk failed to achieve our goal of getting the firing range relocated. Our direct actions ended leaving us only a massive scar with many of our fellow residents imposed criminal punishment. It took a long time before we could overcome the rage and the deep sense of frustration.
After all, the Task Force decided to put up a legal fight as a means of our struggle. It elected 15 representatives, who in February 1998 filed a lawsuit on behalf of the residents against the Korean government for the mental suffering from noise pollution and other damages caused by the U.S. military exercises, asking for 10 million Won to be paid to each plaintiff as partial compensation. After 6 years of intense and bruising court struggle, the Supreme Court of Korea ruled in our favor. It decided that military exercises of the super power U.S., conducted even in the name of "national security," should not pose a threat to or violate people's rights to live and to environmental protection, and that in case of usurpation, compensation must be made for the damage. I am convinced that this ruling will give hope and inspiration not only to us in Maehyang-ri, but also to many peoples around the world enduring the infringement of their rights and the suffering imposed upon them by egoism of the powerful in the name of security.
Thank you for listening.