No need for protractionA violent clash took place Thursday between riot police and protesters while the Ministry of National Defense was trying to send construction equipment needed for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system into a U.S. military base in Seongju, North Gyeongsang. The skirmish between the two groups occurred 112 days after their last one on Nov. 21.
The Defense Ministry and police attempted to send 15 vehicles, including dump trucks loaded with sand and gravel, into the Thaad base at 10:30 a.m. yesterday to help improve the poor working conditions for 400 South Korean and U.S. soldiers deployed to the base. Due to a critical dearth of necessities, the soldiers had to sleep on camp beds on corridors or in warehouses and subsist on field rations airlifted by choppers.
As over 150 protesters who opposed the installation of the Thaad battery were blocking the entry of those vehicles, they clashed with the 3,000-strong riot police. As a result, at least 10 protesters were taken to the hospital by ambulance.
But the Defense Ministry’s effort to find an answer through negotiations with the protesters failed Wednesday. The local protesters demanded that one of them be allowed to enter the base as their representative to check that the construction was being done to improve soldiers’ living conditions in return for allowing in the construction equipment and materials. After the military refused, violence resulted.
If the Defense Ministry gave in to the protesters at the behest of the Blue House — which still harbors a reluctance to the deployment of the missile shield — that raises loud alarm bells for our security. The latest clash actually originates with the Moon Jae-in administration. After a plethora of complications, six Thaad launchers were brought into the base — two on April 26 and four on Sept. 8 — and the construction for the full operation of the system nearly came to a halt. The ministry is not pushing for a general evaluation of the battery’s impact on the environment citing strong resistance from local residents, despite an earlier promise to conduct the test.
We understand the need not to provoke North Korea ahead of a historic inter-Korean summit on April 27 and a U.S.-North summit in May or early June. But the threats from North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles have not been addressed. The government must not protract follow-up steps needed for the full operation of the antimissile battery in South Korea.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 13, Page 30