South Korean farmers protest THAAD deployment
As the US moves ahead with its plans to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system in South Korea, local farmers have launched a protest campaign and lawsuit to halt the installation. Under a land swap deal, South Korean conglomerate Lotte Group is to turn over its golf course in southeastern Seongju county to US Forces Korea (USFK) for installation of the weapon system. In return, the company will receive a parcel of military-owned ground near Seoul. Since the deal was announced in July, local farmers in Seongju and neighboring Gimcheon county have been holding daily protests against the deployment. Fearing that the installation will make the area a potential nuclear target, and that the site's radar system will affect their melon fields, they have been rallying each day outside the site, with signs reading "Bring peace to this land!" and "No THAAD deployment!" With deployment imminent, the farmers have brought a lawsuit, accusing the Defense Ministry of bypassing legally-required procedures, including prior agreement with local communities and an environmental impact assessment. They are also threatening to blockade roads to bar entry of military forces. The area has been flooded with soldiers and riot police, and the deployment site sealed off with barbed wire. (Zoom In Korea, Yonhap, AFP, NPR)
The initiation of the THAAD deployment this week, slated to be complete by June, comes amid US-South Korea military exercises that seemingly prompted the latest test-firing of missiles by North Korea March 5. One of the four intermediate-range missiles is believed to have flown some 620 miles before falling into the Sea of Japan.
An editorial by China's Xinhua News notes the choreographed nature of what has become an yearly ritual on the peninsula, in which joint military exercises in the South spark provocative moves by the DPRK. The editorial said that "the tit-for-tat confrontation between Pyongyang and Seoul has become a sickening old play staged annually in Northeast Asia."
China, which has been trying to restrain North Korean bellicosity, adamantly opposes the THAAD deployment. More than 20 Lotte Group supermarkets in China were forced to close this week, after surprise safety and health inspections by authorities. Beijing is also threatening a general boycott of South Korea. (Chosun Ilbo)
The protest campaign in Seongju and Gimcheon joins issues of war and peace with the global struggle against golf.