Defense minister says Thaad site may change

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Defense minister says Thaad site may change

Defense Minister Han Min-koo said Tuesday the military could consider selecting an alternative site within Seongju for the deployment of the U.S.-operated missile defense system should Seongju residents offer such a site, raising speculation that the government could find a middle ground to put an end to ongoing protests.

The defense chief was quoted by Rep. Kim Gwang-lim of the ruling Saenuri Party as saying that he “could examine an alternative site within Seongju” if the county office comes up with one.

Rep. Kim briefed reporters after his meeting with Han along with other Saenuri leadership lawmakers at the National Assembly.

Han was also quoted by Rep. Kim as saying that the military was willing to examine the potential environmental impact of Thaad.

Han’s meeting with leadership members of the ruling party, including floor leader Chung Jin-suk, came a day before his scheduled trip to Seongju in North Gyeongsang, some 270 kilometers (168 miles) south of Seoul, to explain to Seongju residents why Seongju had been selected for the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system.

Han’s remark on Tuesday that the government could review an alternative site within Seongju came as speculation has arisen that the government might change its initial choice of Seongsan-ri in Seongju County for Thaad, which will be set up by the end of next year.

A Korean artillery base is located in Seongsan-ri and the government plans to relocate the unit and offer the site to the U.S. military to deploy the system. Because the system comes with a powerful radar, residents are worried about electromagnetic radiation, but Seoul and Washington claim there is no risk. The site of a golf club run by Lotte Group has emerged as a potential alternative site for Thaad, given that it is nestled at an elevation of 680 meters, almost twice that of the Seongsan-ri site. The golf course, named Lotte Skyhill Country Club, is also distant from populated areas as it is located 18 kilometers north of the Seongju County Office. The artillery unit in Seongsan-ri is three kilometers south of the county office.

While talk of shifting the location has been ongoing, Seongju residents appear determined to make the government drop its site selection. On Liberation Day, which fell on Monday, over 900 Seongju residents shaved their heads to express their disapproval of the selection.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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