U.S. Move Is Spurring Evictions In S. Korea

Associated Press
Sunday, March 19, 2006

SEOUL, March 18 -- Hundreds of elderly South Korean farmers are facing forcible eviction from their land to allow the expansion of a U.S. military base near Seoul, according to the human rights group Amnesty International.

Some of the farmers -- mainly in their sixties and seventies -- suffered bloodied noses during clashes with riot police earlier this month, and several human rights activists were detained, the London-based group said in a statement posted on its Web site Friday.

Police had come to evict the farmers from their homes in Daechuri village in Pyongtaek, 50 miles south of the capital, it said.

"I will stay and I will die here" if the government attempts to evict the farmers, Kim Ji Tae, the village chief, said during a candlelight vigil in a school in Daechuri.

Of 210 families, Kim said, 20 had left their land and about 80 would eventually leave the village. The remaining families will stay on their land, he said.

"Most of these villagers are very old, and it is distressing to hear of force being used against them," Rajiv Narayan, an East Asia researcher at Amnesty, said in the statement.

Ahn Jung Hoon, a South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman, declined to comment, saying he had not seen the Amnesty statement. David Oten, spokesman for the U.S. military in South Korea, also declined comment.

In December, South Korea's Land Expropriation Committee approved the seizure of the village so the U.S. military could expand Camp Humphreys and move its command from the current headquarters at Yongsan Garrison in central Seoul.

Amnesty International urged the government to release those detained in the clashes and to meet with the evicted farmers to discuss compensation, noting that the financial settlements offered were insufficient to replace their properties.

"Any eviction on the current terms would leave the farmers in an extremely vulnerable position with few opportunities to make a living," Narayan said. The government "should ensure the villagers are not left homeless and give them reasonable compensation and alternative farming land close to their new homes."

About 29,500 U.S. troops are based in South Korea, but that number is set to decline to 25,000 by 2008 as part of a worldwide realignment of American forces.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company