March 27, 2018 11:08
The setup of a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery from the U.S. in southwestern Korea has been on hold since September last year as locals and activists block access to the site.
"There's been no progress in the construction of THAAD facilities, as well as the quarters for U.S. troops," who are to operate the battery, a military spokesman told reporters Monday.
Seoul and Washington agreed in September 2016 to deploy THAAD interceptor launchers at a former golf course in Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province. The U.S. Forces Korea brought two launchers last April and four more last September.
A USFK source claimed the South Korean government appears to be neglecting the deployment, which has been widely unpopular.
A steel barricade set up by activist groups and locals last April still blocks the road near the THAAD deployment site. According to police, about 10 locals check passing vehicles in tag teams of two around the clock to block any USFK vehicles or trucks carrying equipment. Although this is highly illegal, police seem to have done nothing .
"We'll resolutely clamp down on illegal demonstrations," a police spokesman said. "But it's our principle not to stoke upheavals."
Police have drastically reduced their presence at the site. About 300 troops from four police companies were deployed last September, but now only some 80 are on standby some 4 km away.
The USFK is reduced to running the THAAD battery as if in a field maneuver, on generators fueled by diesel flown in by helicopter. They can neither begin reinforcement work of the launch pads nor pave the road inside the site, both of which are essential for normal operation of the THAAD launchers.
The government has been unable to carry out an environmental impact assessment of the 700,000 sq.m site, which was supposed to begin in February, because of the disruptions.
It has pledged to make the final decision on the THAAD deployment based on the outcome of the assessment, which had been skipped by the Park Geun-hye administration in its rush to push the deployment through before it was kicked out of office.
Right after he took office last May, President Moon Jae-in called a halt to all operations on the grounds that the Defense Ministry, which was left over from the Park era, had deliberately omitted the arrival of four more interceptor launchers in its report to him.
Only after North Korea test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile on July 28 last year did Moon promise the following day to "temporarily" deploy them. But activist kept blocking the road and police were still sitting on their hands.
The USFK source said it looks as though the South Korean government is feeling relaxed about the matter amid a thaw in inter-Korean relations and was never very determined to start with. Another factor is that China is vehemently opposed to the deployment and punished Seoul with a crippling unofficial boycott last year.
Prof. Park Won-gon of Handong Global University said, "Seoul seems to be tiptoeing around Beijing and Pyongyang as far as the THAAD deployment is concerned."
The government promised China no deployment of any further THAAD batteries, no participation in the U.S. missile defense system, and no participation in a trilateral Seoul-Washington-Tokyo military alliance.
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