U.S. BOMBS KOREAN VILLAGE
Residents of a South Korean village lying near a US Air Force bombing range - the largest in Asia - are being killed or made sick, their property is damaged, and their source of livelihood is destroyed, as a result of the ‘normal training’ operations of the US base.
By Green Korea
South Korea: While residents of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques continue to risk arrest for protesting the US Navy’s renewed bombing of their homeland, a similar struggle is being waged half a world away in the Korean village of Maehyang-ri.
Maehyang-ri lies near a US Air Force bombing range in Kyonggi Province, two hours from Seoul. Established in 1952, the Koon-ni Range encompasses more than 24 square kilometres of coastal land and sea.
This little-known site is the largest US bombing range in Asia, with pilots from the US, Japan, Thailand, Guam and the Philippines flying bombing runs 250 days a year.
‘Maehyang-ri villagers are being killed, being made sick, and their source of livelihood is being destroyed... [The] training is more like war,’ charges the environmental group Green Korea United*.
‘There is much damage in this village due to noise,’ Green Korea reports.
More than 7% of the villagers suffer from impaired hearing, children are emotionally affected, and in 1995, a single explosion cracked and collapsed hundreds of roofs in Maehyang-ri.
Even livestock suffer, the report says. ‘The residents have great difficulties breeding animals, chickens perish and cows produce little milk.’
A Green Korea survey found levels of copper and arsenic in the soil of the bombing range 13 times higher than normal. Cadmium levels were 37 times higher and lead levels 145 times higher than average.
The Korean Council of Physicians for the Humanitarian Practice of Medicine found that villagers had 1.7 times more lead in their blood than steelworkers (who are statistically more prone to lead poisoning).
The spectre of slow poisoning is not as frightening as the constant risk of sudden, explosive death. In the 49 years since Koon-ni began operations, 12 villagers have been killed and nine injured by bombs and helicopter gunfire. Maehyang-ri residents killed by US weapons include four children and a woman who was nine months pregnant.
The latest outrage occurred on the morning of 8 May, when a US A-10 Warthog anti-tank plane encountered engine trouble and the pilot jettisoned six 500-pound bombs in an attempt to keep his plane airborne. The bombs struck Maehyang-ri, damaging 170 homes and injuring seven villagers.
Residents’ demands for compensation have been rebuffed, Green Korea explains, because the US ‘considers the issue as a problem between the villagers and the Korean government’. The Navy ruled that dropping the bombs on Maehyang-ri was consistent with ‘normal training’ operations.
Chun Man-gu, leader of the Maehyang-ri Residents Committee, was thrown in jail for demonstrating against the base. Upon his release, Chun angrily tore down the large red flag the US unfurls to warn of an impending training exercise.
‘We urge the US Army to compensate the villagers for 50 years of pain and suffering,’ Green Korea declares. ‘At the very minimum, [the US-Korea Status of Forces Agreement] should include an environmental statute that will protect Maehyang-ri and the land resources.’ - Third World Network Features
· Green Korea United can be contacted at: 605 The Korean Ecumenical Building, 136-56, Younji-Dong, Jongro-Gu, Seoul, Korea, <www.greenkorea.org>.
The above article first appeared in Earth Island Journal (Winter 2000-2001).