Seongju locals say yes to Thaad - but not in their backyard

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Seongju locals say yes to Thaad - but not in their backyard

A committee representing local opposition to the deployment of the U.S.-led antimissile defense system in Seongju County, North Gyeongsang, decided Sunday to request the Ministry of National Defense suggest an alternate site within the county.

Weeks into its protest of the decision by Seoul and Washington to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system in Seongju, the committee reached the decision after President Park Geun-hye suggested earlier this month that she is willing to consider an alternate site.

“The 33 executive members of the committee present at the meeting reached an agreement to request the Defense Ministry to suggest an alternate site to deploy the Thaad system,” the committee announced Sunday.

The decision was reached with 23 votes in support. There was one opposition vote and nine abstentions.

This is the first time the committee said it will accept the Defense Ministry’s deployment of the antimissile defense system in the county on the condition that it be deployed in an area in which its electromagnetic waves will not affect people living nearby. Prior to Sunday, the committee said it opposed the deployment anywhere in the county.

Seongju residents are concerned about becoming a target for a North Korean attack, as well as about possible health risks posed by the defense system’s electromagnetic waves, though Seoul and Washington claim there is no risk.

The government’s plan was to put the antimissile defense system on a Korean artillery base in Seongsan-ri in Seongju County, a site chosen based on a joint survey conducted by South Korea and the United States. The site is about 1.5 kilometers (almost one mile) from Seongsan-eup, one of the most populous towns in the county with about 14,000 residents.

“The committee opened a county-wide meeting on Thursday to receive all opinions, and held meetings on Saturday and Sunday,” said a committee member. “There were those who wanted to keep asking the government to scrap all plans to deploy Thaad in Seongju, but the committee decided on its official position Sunday.”

Minister of Defense Han Min-koo said last week that “once the residents agree on a new site, [the ministry] will make inspections [on its suitability].”

But whether residents near an alternate site accept the Defense Ministry’s decision is another question.

When an area near the Lotte Skyhill golf course in Seongju was reported as a possible alternate site for the Thaad system, the residents of Gimcheon, which is only a few kilometers from the site, protested. Some 140,000 people live in the city.

“The Gimcheon city government and council hereby express their regret at media reports that suggest the golf course adjacent to the city as a strong alternate site for Thaad,” the city government and council said in a statement last week. “We oppose all plans to deploy Thaad in areas near the city, which threatens the safety and lives of its residents.”

Candlelight vigils against Thaad are ongoing in Gimcheon.

BY KIM YOUN-HO, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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