An advanced US missile defense system will be deployed in a rural farming town in south-eastern South Korea, Seoul officials have said.
The announcement angered not only North Korea and China but also local residents who fear potential health hazards that they believe the system might cause.
As word of the location for the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence, or THAAD, spread even before the formal announcement, thousands of residents in the town of Seongju, the site for the US system, rallied and demanded the government cancel its decision. A group of local leaders wrote letters of complaint in blood that they plan to give to the Defense Ministry.
“We oppose with our lives the THAAD deployment,” one of the letters said, according to Seongju local council speaker Bae Jae Man, one of the 10 people who wrote the letter.
Seoul and Washington officials say they need the missile system to better deal with what they call increasing North Korean military threats. On Monday, North Korea warned it will take unspecified “physical” measures once the location for THAAD is announced.
Seoul’s Deputy Defence Minister, Ryu Je Seung, told a news conference that Seongju was picked because it can maximize the THAAD’s military effectiveness while satisfying environmental, health and safety standards.
He said a THAAD system stationed in Seongju would cover two-thirds of South Korea’s territory against possible North Korean nuclear and missile threats, and that the countries’ defense chiefs had approved the decision.
China and Russia oppose the system which they believe helps US radar track missiles in their countries. Seoul and Washington say the system targets only North Korea. Many South Koreans fear that China, South Korea’s biggest trading partner, might take economic retaliatory measures.
Residents in Seongju and several other villages previously rumoured to be candidate sites for the THAAD system have already launched protests, citing concerns that the electromagnetic waves which THAAD radar systems emit could cause health problems.
Defence officials have disputed that, saying the system will be located on a mountain, not in a residential area, and is harmless if people stay at least 100 yards away from it.
Seoul and Washington launched talks on the THAAD deployment after North Korea conducted a fourth nuclear test and carried out a long-range rocket launch earlier this year.
The United States stations about 28,500 troops in South Korea as deterrence against potential aggression from North Korea. China assisted North Korea during the 1950-53 Korean War, while American-led UN troops fought alongside South Korea.