US THAAD anti-missile deployment in S. Korea sparks clashes between locals & police (PHOTOS, VIDEO)
Residents of Seongju county in South Korea clashed with police after US personnel moved the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system onto a golf course in Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province.
Clashes with local villagers, who have been protesting against THAAD deployment for months, erupted when six trailers carrying the radar and other hardware equipment for the American missile defense system entered the installation site at the golf course in South Korea early Wednesday, Yonhap reports.
Scuffles erupted when police tried to stop some 200 residents at the entrance to the golf course. Police had to mobilize additional forces to control some 8,000 people in the area and the traffic on the 905 provincial roads leading to the Seongju Golf Course.
Local activists have been very vocal about the deployment of the US system, saying the presence of THAAD would make them a prime target for Pyongyang. The protesters also said the system poses health and environmental problems.
As police tried to control the crowd, the US military moved all of the car-mounted mobile launchers, radars, interceptor missiles, and combat control stations that have arrived in South Korea in March.
The protest continues despite a heavy police presence at the entrance of the golf course and the fact that all the available equipment has already been moved to the installation site.
The US Forces Korea (USFK) are yet to comment, but South Korea's Ministry of National Defense has already confirmed the start of the full-scale deployment, saying the move is “meant to secure early operational capability by positioning some available parts first at the site.”
The Ministry added that the US and Korean militaries will also proceed to conduct an environmental assessment and also construct relevant facilities at the golf site. The THAAD unit will be fully operational by the end of this year, Yonhap reports.
In March, the US military announced that the “first elements” of the THAAD system had arrived in South Korea.
“We know that the two launchers kept in the US Army unit of Wakgok-gun, Chilgok-gun are surely deployed,” a South Korean official told Yonhap on Wednesday morning. “We know that radar, interceptors, generators, coolers, etc., other than mobile launchers, are moved from Pusan to trailers.”
Last July, Seoul and Washington agreed to install the THAAD system in the southeastern town of Seongju as a “necessary measure” to thwart North Korea's nuclear and missile threats.
While South Koreans remain split over the THAAD issue, the US weapon's system deployment prompted a strong backlash from regional players, particularly from China.
Beijing has repeatedly spoken out against THAAD over fears that it will undermine its own deterrence capabilities, and previously urged Seoul and Washington to reconsider their plans.
Russia has also voiced concern over the effectiveness of THAAD’s deployment in South Korea, urging those involved to consider the inevitable escalation of tensions it will cause.
The spokesman for the front runner in South Korea's May 9 presidential election, Moon Jae-in, called the THAAD deployment "very inappropriate" as it strips the next government of the right to make a policy decision on the matter. Earlier, there had been speculation that the US may delay the deployment process until after South Korea's presidential elections.
THAAD is an advanced system designed to intercept short, medium, and intermediate-range ballistic missiles during their terminal flight phase. Equipped with long-range radar, it is believed to be capable of intercepting North Korea’s intermediate-range ballistic missiles.