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Opposition lawmakers, defense ministry clash over Jeju naval base

All Headlines 17:02 January 23, 2013

By Kim Eun-jung

SEOUL, Jan. 23 (Yonhap) -- A group of opposition lawmakers on Wednesday visited the defense chief to demand the suspension of ongoing construction for a naval base on the southern resort island of Jeju, but their meeting ended with no progress made on differences over the procedural flaws of the project.

The construction project for a naval base on the southern coast of Jeju has been under way since early 2010, with about 30 percent completed as of the end of 2012.

The National Assembly passed a 201 billion won (US$188 million) budget for the project for this year, under the condition that the military conducts a thorough inspection into the ongoing process to dispel worries among the public and report the results to parliament within 70 days. The requirement was a compromise for the bill's passage, which was resisted by opposition lawmakers.

With landfill operations and structure construction currently under way, opposition lawmakers urged the defense ministry to put the process on hold and fulfill the requirement first.

Earlier in the day, Rep. Park Ki-choon, the floor leader of the main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP), and 10 other lawmakers visited defense chief Kim Kwan-jin, to pressure the government to stop the ongoing process.

"The construction should be halted if the budget is not implemented," Park told reporters. "Although the defense ministry should suspend the construction for 70 days to fulfill its requirement and to persuade people, it is going ahead with the construction."

The defense chief argued suspension of the current process is not appropriate because it would temporarily deprive workers of their jobs and cause financial damage to government contractors.

"The requirement by the National Assembly doesn't specifically call for 'suspension of construction,'" Kim was quoted as saying during the closed-door meeting. "It doesn't necessarily mean that the construction should be halted."

The meeting ended only after the lawmakers and ministry officials agreed to come up with some measures to resolve the matter.

According to the Navy, 70 days of interruption would cause about 15.7 billion won in damage to contractors in facility rental fees and employee salaries.

Military officials say the new base will give Seoul a launching point from which to send naval vessels into southern waters, a key trade route for South Korea. If completed as scheduled in 2015, the base will be able to hold up to 20 warships simultaneously, along with two 150,000-ton cruise ships.

ejkim@yna.co.kr
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