Three peace campaigners from South Korea have been visiting London this week to voice their concerns about the large presence of US armed forces in their country - in more than 50 bases - and the recently-completed US Navy base on Jeju Island. A place of great historic importance and natural beauty, Jeju was named the 'Island of Peace' by the Korean government and identified by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. But the island is now dominated by the new base. The 2,000 residents of Gangjeong village on the island, have been swamped by up 7,000 navy personnel based there at any one time.
The construction project caused massive environmental damage as stretches of coastline were dynamited, and waters dredged to make the deep water port. Water sources are being contaminated and the environment of hundreds of plant and animal species are being destroyed.
Peace groups, including secular and Buddhist groups and churches, Columban missionaries and Pax Christi members, have taken part in many peaceful demonstrations and prayer vigils on the island over the past five years. A daily open-air Mass is regularly celebrated outside the base. Campaigners say the port, 300 miles from China, can now accommodate multiple US aircraft carriers, submarines and Aegis destroyers, armed with nuclear missile systems, and threatens peace in the region. They fear, particularly since the election of Donald Trump, the missile system will inflame tensions between the US, North Korea and China.
The peace delegation stayed with a number of Catholic hosts during their visit to the UK. In London they held daily vigils outside the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square and Trafalgar Square and gave several talks to peace groups.
The struggle on Jeju brings together all the issues - militarisation, the environment and human rights - that concern Catholics active in promoting the Church's Social Teaching.
One of the delegation members told ICN: ”We feel our nonviolent campaign is an important symbol for the international peace movement and a reminder that this struggle is not just the concern of the people of Korea but one that concerns the global peace community.”
To read more about Jeju Island see: www.columbans.co.uk/news/save-korea’s-jeju-island/
See also ICN 20 September 2015 South Korea: No naval base on Jeju www.indcatholicnews.com/news/28346
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