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THAAD’s new home will be golf course in South Korean mountains

This roadway leads to the entrance to Lotte Skyhill Country Club in Seongju, South Korea. The country club will be used to station an advanced U.S. missile defense system known as THAAD.

KIM GAMEL/STARS AND STRIPES

By KIM GAMEL AND YOO KYONG CHANG | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 30, 2016

SEOUL, South Korea — An 18-hole golf course in the mountains above a southeastern farming area will be the new home for an advanced U.S. anti-missile battery aimed at countering the growing threat from the North, the South Korean military said Friday.

The decision followed months of protests over the original plans to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system at an artillery base in the Seongju region. The new location at the Lotte Skyhill Country Club is in the same area but higher and more remote.

The Ministry of National Defense said it plans to obtain the golf club from the Lotte group, one of South Korea’s biggest conglomerates, after also considering two other candidates.

It said the country club “turned out to be best qualified,” and U.S. and South Korean defense officials “selected it as the final site” for the THAAD’s deployment.

“Therefore MND will make every effort to install the THAAD within the next year in order to better defend national security and people’s lives from the escalating North Korean nuclear and missiles threats,” it said.

The statement did not elaborate on possible terms, saying only that discussions would be held under the Status of Forces Agreement for granted land, and design and construction.

South Korean media have reported the price tag could be more than $90 million.

U.S. Forces Korea has said it is working with its South Korean allies on the associated costs of building and stationing THAAD on the peninsula, and information will be available later.

Washington and Seoul agreed in July to deploy THAAD to work in combination with Patriot missiles and other weapons to defend the South against North Korea’s massive arsenal. Tensions have spiked as the communist country has conducted two nuclear tests and launched several missiles into the sea off the peninsula’s east coast this year.

The United States intends to speed up the system’s deployment “given the accelerating pace of North Korea’s missile tests,” Daniel Russel, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asia, said earlier this week.

The MND said the choice was made after a joint U.S.-South Korean working group conducted an evaluation from Aug. 27 to Sept. 27 involving experts in the environment, civil engineering and electromagnetic waves.

The company had received a notice about the plan from the defense ministry, said club official Kim Byung-wook.

“We will positively consider THAAD’s deployment at the golf course considering the grave situation regarding national security,” he said in a telephone interview.

But the plans have met stiff opposition from local residents with a host of concerns ranging from possibly harmful effects on health and the economy to fears of antagonizing regional powerhouse China, a major trading partner.

Beijing believes the system’s powerful radar could be used against its military despite U.S. and South Korean assurances the missiles are defensive and will only be pointed at North Korea.

“We’ll keep fighting for the withdrawal of THAAD deployment in the future,” said Kim Chunghwan, a protest leader in Seongju.

People in nearby Gimcheon, which borders the country club, also were angry and picketed during a visit by defense ministry officials to the area before Friday’s announcement, said a city official who declined to be identified.

“Residents just got madder because the MND officials went away without talking to them,” he said.

The U.S. and South Korean militaries insist the radar would not pose a health threat, and the new location was selected in part to ease those concerns.

The new location also has created a new opponent — followers of the Won Buddhism religious movement who are upset because the chosen location is less than half a mile from one of their most sacred sites. Several dozen members, clad in white robes, staged a peaceful protest Friday in front of the defense ministry’s headquarters in Seoul.

North Korea, meanwhile, has tried to play into the fears held by many residents, vowing that the missile-defense system would become a primary target of its nuclear strikes.

The two Koreas remain technically at war after the 1950-53 conflict ended with an armistice instead of a peace treaty. The U.S. has about 28,500 servicemembers stationed in the South.

gamel.kim@stripes.com

chang.yookyong@stripes.com

Twitter: @kimgamel

South Koreans protest U.S. and South Korean military plans to deploy an advanced U.S. missile defense system known as THAAD in the southeastern Seongju area, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016. They are standing near the road leading to the Lotte Skyhill Country Club, where the anti-missile battery will be stationed.
KIM GAMEL/STARS AND STRIPES

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