The Defense Ministry's Change of Heart Comes Too Late

The Defense Ministry on Tuesday announced its opposition to moving a military base in the Songpa district of southeastern Seoul, where a new town is scheduled to open starting in the second half of next year. The ministry claimed security issues were not thoroughly considered when this project began.

At the Songpa New Town site there are seven military installations, including a compound for special forces troops and a golf course. The Defense Ministry cites those as the main problems. Special forces need to be stationed near Seoul Air Base, it says, due to their mission requirements of having to be airlifted quickly and dropped into enemy territory, while the golf course needs to stay due to its dual use as a freight transport installation and an emergency air strip.

Plans to build the Songpa New Town were laid in August 2005, during the Roh Moo-hyun administration. Initial sales of homes were to begin in September 2009, but the plan could not be finalized until July 2008 due to differences of opinion with the Seoul metropolitan government regarding forest areas.

A total of 46,000 homes are to become available in the Songpa New Town between 2010 to 2013, including low-cost rental units for low-income families. The Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs says it has almost completed compensating owners to move out of a piece of land for the military installation currently in Songpa. Also, construction has already begun for new buildings to house four military installations including a military administration training school. At a plot of land in Icheon, Gyeonggi Province, which is to serve as the new home of the special forces unit, 69 percent of owners have been compensated and will move out.

It is preposterous that the Defense Ministry is opposing the plan now even though it was announced five years ago. If the Songpa New Town project faces hurdles due to the Defense Ministry’s claims, the government will lose credibility and housing supply will be disrupted. And many people who are waiting to move into their new homes will face major complications. If the Defense Ministry thought the Songpa New Town would pose security problems, it should have voiced its opposition from the start.

There are accounts that the ministry had to keep silent due to the stubbornness of the Roh administration to push ahead with the project. But the ministry did not made a single complaint about the plan even after it was finalized by the Lee Myung-bak administration. Its sudden change of heart lays it open to criticism that it is too easily swayed by the decisions of presidential administrations. Or perhaps the Defense Ministry has gotten greedy after problems over moving costs erupted with the Land Ministry.

The Defense Ministry had opposed the construction of the Lotte World skyscraper since the Kim Young-sam administration but ended up supporting it under Lee. There is too much flip-flopping going on.

englishnews@chosun.com / Mar. 26, 2009 12:35 KST