Militant Korean farmers sign up for HK protests

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 July, 2005, 12:00am

1,000 hardliners to camp out in Wan Chai and join anti-globalisation rallies during WTO talks

More than 1,000 of Asia's most militant opponents of globalisation have confirmed they are coming to Hong Kong to take part in mass protests at the World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting this year.

The leader of the Korean Peasants League (KPL) says other hardline farmers' groups will bring hundreds more and that they intend to camp out in Wan Chai near the convention centre - where the meeting will be held in December - and stage protests across the city.

Hong Kong police - a group of whom have just returned from Scotland after monitoring the often violent protests against the G8 meeting in Gleneagles - say they have no information on the farmers' plans.

Korean farmers, including members of the KPL, were among the most vocal activists at WTO talks in Cancun, Mexico, in September 2003, where one of them stabbed himself to death while crying 'the WTO kills farmers'.

They protested furiously last year against South Korea's plans to open the country's rice market to imports, organising mass protests, lighting fires in front of the National Assembly, uprooting crops, blockading rice shipments and disrupting traffic with tractors.

The KPL is billing the Hong Kong meeting as 'D-Day' and claims to have signed up 700 participants already. 'We are signing up protesters now. Our target is 1,000, but we may take more. Other Korean farmers' groups will take several hundred,' said Park Min-ung, secretary-general of the 45,000-member KPL.

They expect to stay in Hong Kong for three days, staging protests at the convention centre and in 'public places' around the city. To do so they will need permission from the police, which they do not have. But Mr Park said: 'We trust the Hong Kong government will not use force to block our peaceful, legal protests.

'We will do whatever we can within legal boundaries.'

He hoped there would be no confrontations.

Bill Suen Kwai-leung, commandant of the Police Tactical Unit (PTU), which is responsible for frontline policing of protests, said: 'I have no specific intelligence about Korean farmers. No matter if they are Korean or local or from any other place, they will not be treated differently. It depends on how they act.'

The KPL's cramped offices in Seoul's grim industrial suburb of Yeungdeungpo are festooned with posters of heroic farmers in protest headbands next to a sign reading 'D-Day,' denoting the December meeting.

The group's emblem has two hands holding a sheaf of rice stalks like a sword.

Mr Park acknowledged that the KPL had a reputation.

'We are aware of concerns about what happened at Cancun, and I worry that the media portrays us as a violent group,' he said, adding that in Mexico, 'there was some pushing and pulling, but no serious injuries'.

Representatives of his group will travel to Hong Kong this month to meet local NGOs.

On May 7, Police Commissioner Dick Lee Ming-kwai met South Korea's police chief, Huh Joon-young, in Hong Kong, but the force insists the WTO and the farmers were not on the agenda.

The delegation of Hong Kong police officers to Scotland, led by PTU deputy commandant Mike Cartwright, monitored how police handled violent demonstrations and massive protest marches during the G8 summit.

Mr Cartwright, contacted by phone in Scotland on Friday, said there were many similarities between the type of planning carried out by British law enforcers and the strategies planned by Hong Kong police for expected protests during the WTO meeting, despite the very different terrain and environments of Wan Chai and Gleneagles, where G8 leaders met, and Edinburgh.

The officers monitored a 225,000-strong Make Poverty History march in Edinburgh last Saturday and later observed the way police dealt with protesters in Auchterarder, a town near Gleneagles.