Saemangeum Project Opposition Movement
Responds Powerfully to Government's May 25 Decision

In response to the South Korean government's May 25 decision to continue the Saemangeum Reclamation Project, the opposition movement responded collectively, swiftly, and decisively. Members of civic, academic, labor, artistic, and religious circles combined to protest alongside Green Korea United (GKU), who has played an integral role in the mounting campaign against the reclamation project by organizing demonstrations, a press conference, a petition drive, and a symbolic act of protest by closing down headquarter offices from June 4-8.

The Prime Minister's office released a statement expressing their decision to resume construction of the 33 km seawall off the westcoast of the Saemangeum area as well as develop the Dongjin River. Development efforts for the Mangyeong River will be on hold until water quality improves. Representative Kim Sung-soon of the Millennium Democratic Party (MDP) told reporters that "water quality in Tongjin River is fine, but that of Mangyeong River will undergo a serious pollution if we push for its development under the current situation." Thus, the government will consider "complementary measures" to improve such water quality by adding $1 billion to the existing $2.4 million project. The decision to continue was made in a minister-level committee headed by Prime Minister Lee Han-dong. Na Seung-po, a high-ranking official in the Prime Minister's office, said of the decision that "we have agreed to continue the reclamation project in an environmentally-friendly way."

Saemangeum is a precious and vital natural resource not just for South Korea, but for the world. The tidal flats are located between the cities of Kunsan and Kimje, stretching 35 km from north to south and 30 km from east to west. This wildlife habitat supports 158 species of fish, or 76.9 percent of all fish species in the West Sea, according to Lee Chungryul, biology professor at Kunsan University. It also serves as a major stopover for the more than 20,000 birds that journey from East Asia to Australia annually. In 1998, more than 85,000 birds of 12 different species were recorded in the area.

The government's May 25 decision came after a private 22-member panel designated by the government comprised of experts, officials from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and journalists reviewed previous research. Lim Sam-jin, secretary general of GKU, said, "We civic organizations joined the research process as the government promised to respect our opinions. But it totally reneged on its promise." Choi Yul, secretary general of Korean Federation for Environmental Movement (KFEM), said, "if the government pushes ahead with it nevertheless, civic groups will together stage protest campaigns and withdraw from any cooperative bodies with the government."

Those calling for an end to the Saemangeum reclamation project have acted in compliance with these words. Several civic organizations staged a protest on May 25 in front of city hall; 1,500 prominent figures from civic, academic, labor, artistic, and religious circles demanded an immediate suspension of the project in a joint declaration on May 28; a joint press conference was held at the Korea Press Club on May 29 during which many members announced their resignation from such government-appointed committees as the Presidential Commission on Sustainable Development, Water Quality Improvement Planning Committee under the office of the Prime Minister, Citizen-Government Committee for Water Administration Policy, and Citizen Committee on Environmental Policy under the Ministry of Environment; and GKU kicked-off a petition drive in front of the YMCA building in Seoul on May 30-31 in an effort to poll 80 percent of Seoul citizens on whether they agree or disagree with the reclamation project. GKU followed up these activities by closing down their headquarters during the week of June 4 in an act of symbolic protest. During this time they protested throughout Seoul and took their petition drive to the people on the subway, at the airport, and on the streets.

Civic groups have collectively professed, "The Saemangeum reclamation project is the most environmentally destructive project in the world" and that "if the government does not stop the plan immediately, we will launch an anti-government movement to drive the Kim Dae-jung administration out of power."

By Amy Levine (GKU Volunteer)

Posted by GreenKorea
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  1. 2012.07.06 12:04
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