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Seongju tense as THAAD equipment on the move

Defense Ministry says four remaining launchers will be deployed Thursday

By Yeo Jun-suk

Published : Sept. 6, 2017 - 16:49

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South Korea’s rural town of Seongju was tense Wednesday evening, as activists and protestors converged and villagers built up a barricade with tractors and vehicles to block the imminent arrival of the equipment of a controversial US missile defense system. 

Seoul’s Defense Ministry announced Wednesday afternoon that four launchers of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system would be moved to a US military site in Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province, early Thursday morning.

“As a result of consultation between South Korea and the US, we decided to temporarily station the remaining THAAD launchers alongside the construction material and equipment for the US military,” the ministry said in a statement.   

 
Villagers and protestors block the road to the THAAD battery site in Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province, on Wednesday afternoon. (Yonhap) Villagers and protestors block the road to the THAAD battery site in Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province, on Wednesday afternoon. (Yonhap)
There are two launchers and a radar already deployed and in operation on the battery site, formerly a private golf resort. Four additional launchers, which are required to assemble one full THAAD battery, were widely expected to arrive at the site soon, after the government said Monday that preparations were all done to move them.

The ministry stressed that it is only a “temporary” deployment and a final decision on the system’s dispatch here will come after a full-scale environmental impact assessment. 

Nevertheless, experts see Thursday’s planned rollout of the remaining four launchers as marking a turning point in yearslong debate over the US weapon system, which has prompted pushback from the residents of Seongju and neighboring states China and Russia.

Even before the official announcement of the deployment schedule Wednesday, activists and protestors opposing the weapon system started to converge in Seongju to block the launchers’ arrival in the area.

“Four additional THAAD launchers will be brought into Seongju early tomorrow (Thursday) morning,” a protestors’ group said in a text message sent out to residents and activists before 3 p.m., citing multiple tipoffs about the deployment schedule. “We ask all of you to gather here by 6 p.m.”

The decision came as a part of the allies’ effort to boost their deterrence against North Korea, which conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test Sunday and has threatened to carry out more provocations, such as ballistic missile launches.

The deployment of THAAD has unnerved the North’s main supporters such as China and Russia, which fear that the weapon system would pose a security threat by helping the US increase its military clout in the region.

South Korea and the United States have sought to ease concerns, highlighting that the measure is only designed to prevent North Korea ballistic missiles targeting South Korea and the US troops stationed here.

“THAAD is being deployed as a response to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threat. If the North’s nuclear and missile issue is resolved, the THAAD issue will be resolved as well,” President Moon Jae-in said in his interview with Russian media Tuesday.

Meanwhile, political parties, including President Moon’s governing Democratic Party of Korea, welcomed the decision, saying the deployment is necessary in preventing North Korea’s missile and nuclear threats. The minor opposition Justice Party was the only political party to criticize the decision.

(jasonyeo@heraldcorp.com)