SEOUL, Aug. 4 (Yonhap) -- The defense ministry on Thursday dismissed opposition political parties' resistance to the construction of a naval base on the nation's southernmost island, saying the base is necessary for national security.
Earlier in the day, five opposition parties held a joint press conference to claim that the naval base on Jeju Island would damage the environment and that the National Assembly should reconsider the project, which was approved in 2007.
In response, the ministry said construction has been delayed by about 10 months at the expense of state budgets and it was "regrettable" that facts about the base have been distorted.
"To protect Jeju Island and surrounding waters, the Navy would now have to be dispatched from Busan, Jinhae or Mokpo (in the southern parts of mainland South Korea)," said Army Maj. Gen. Lee Yong-dae, head of military force and resources management at the ministry. "But these bases are too far from the southern waters of Jeju. To ensure the speed and continuity of our operations, Jeju must have a naval base."
Lee lamented that opposition to the base construction has mostly come from "outside groups, rather than local residents."
"Since outside groups entered the fray, they have illegally occupied construction sites," the general said. "They've turned this into an ideological and political issue."
Lee also claimed the naval base won't have adverse effects on the environment.
"In 2007 and 2008, we conducted the necessary tests on the impact to the environment," he said. "We also commissioned a separate test to an institution recommended by an opposing environmental group, and it didn't find any problems."
Lee said further delay to the construction will lead to financial losses and affect national security.
Construction work on the island, which began last year, has been stalled amid resistance from progressive civic groups. Last July, hundreds of local residents filed a suit with an administrative court in Seoul in an attempt to force the ministry to halt the project, but the court ruled in favor of the ministry.
The planned naval base, to be built in a village in Jeju's southern region, will be home to about 20 naval vessels and two 150,000-ton cruisers. According to the defense ministry, about 14 percent of construction work has been completed.