Eviction of elderly South Korean farmers for U.S. base raises human rights concerns
SEOUL, South Korea – Hundreds of elderly farmers face 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 60s and 70s – suffered bloodied noses and several human rights activists were detained during clashes with riot police earlier this month, 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 Seoul, it said.”I will stay and I will die here if (the government) forcibly evicts us,” Kim Ji-tae, the village chief, told The Associated Press during a candlelight vigil in a school in their village.Of 210 families, Kim said 20 families had already left their land and some 80 families would eventually leave the village but the remaining families will stay on their land.”Most of these villagers are very old and it is distressing to hear of force being used against them,” Rajiv Narayan, East Asia researcher at Amnesty International, said in the statement.Ahn Jung-hoon, a South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman, declined to comment, saying he had not seen the Amnesty International 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 can expand Camp Humphreys and move its command from the current headquarters in Yongsan Garrison, 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 are not sufficient to replace the properties they were forced from.”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 their numbers are set to decline to 25,000 by 2008 as part of a worldwide realignment of U.S. forces.The two Koreas technically remain in a state of conflict, after the Korean War ended in a 1953 cease-fire.—On the Net:Amnesty International: http://www.amnesty.org
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