Military news

1 year into anti-THAAD rally in S Korea, ordeal lasts for local residents

2017-07-14 11:00:00 (Beijing Time)         Xinhua

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One year has passed since people in Seongju, a county in South Korea's southeast region, launched their protest rally against the deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile interception system.

On July 13, 2016, Seongju was designated as a site for the U.S. missile shield installation. Since then, residents have never missed one day of a candlelit rally, rain or shine and in a sweltering heat or a biting cold.

About two months after the designation, the site was altered into a golf course in Soseong-ri, a tiny and peaceful village in the northernmost part of Seongju where no more than 170 villagers, mostly in their 70s and 80s, make a living with farming.

Thursday's temperature reached almost 40 degrees Celsius. Business as usual, grannies stood sentry inside or outside the Soseong-ri village hall to block any THAAD element from being transported to the golf course.

Along the kilometers-long road to enter the village, placards were lined up with slogans that read "President Moon Jae-in must officially declare a THAAD retreat," "Remove THAAD, Oppose THAAD" and "Peace is the best weapon."

On April 26 this year, less than two weeks before the presidential election, two THAAD mobile launchers and other elements were delivered in the middle of the night to the golf course. Residents called it a military operation-like delivery.

"I couldn't have wept more tears (when the delivery occurred). The whole village was like a mourner's house," said Do Keum-yeon, an 81-year-old villager who has lived in Soseong-ri since she got married six decades ago. Before her marriage, she had lived in a village near Soseong-ri.

She explained a psychological and physical ordeal, which she and other grannies had undergone over the past year. As riot police violently suppressed villagers. Some were taken to hospital for injury. Do said she wondered at the time if they were policemen for South Koreans or for U.S. soldiers.

"(South Korean) soldiers and policemen are like my sons. I feel very bad and regretful (about the confrontation with policemen)," said the granny. For many times, she and other grannies have sat down in the front line of anti-THAAD protest rallies.

Asked about why she has continued her fight against THAAD, she replied that it was a matter of life and death.

"With THAAD overhead, I cannot live here. Helicopters (to transport oil to the golf course) make a big noise every day. Noise is heard even from the generator (inside the golf course) at night," said Do.

The AN/TPY-2 radar of the THAAD is known to emit super microwave, detrimental to human body and environment. The golf course is about 2 km away from the Soseong-ri village hall.

"What we want is simple: returning back THAAD to the U.S.. There is nothing we want except it. We want to return back to the past peaceful life," said Do, adding that the U.S. missile shield worth about 1 billion U.S. dollars is worth less than a one-dollar candy to them as they do not need the war weapon.

The granny said she voted for President Moon in the May 9 presidential by-election, hoping the new leader reverse the THAAD deployment decision. "Any great change hasn't been made yet," said Do whose eyes were on the verge of tears.

Scores of extreme-rightist activists supporting the U.S. missile defense system began to gather tens of meters away from the Soseong-ri village hall Thursday afternoon. Hundreds of police officers were mobilized to prevent any violent conflict between pro- and anti-THAAD protesters, and an ambulance was on a standby.

The pro-THAAD rightists waved the Stars and Stripes together with their national flags, a scene frequently seen at rallies held by loyalists to impeached President Park Geun-hye earlier this year in central Seoul. Park has stood trial for her alleged involvement in a corruption scandal.

They played martial songs with loudspeakers, turning the peaceful village into a battlefield-like place. They described themselves as patriots as pro-Park loyalists did in Seoul to demand the nullification of Park's impeachment.

The majority of the pro-THAAD activists looked in their 70s and 80s, but they were led by a tiny number of men in their 40s, including a man infamous here for his extreme-rightist political tendency.

"It is weird to see (South) Koreans wave the U.S. flag and support the THAAD deployment," said a U.S. citizen who identified herself only as a graduate student from California. She arrived in South Korea about two months ago and came Sunday to the Soseong-ri village to join the anti-THAAD protest rally.

"From my heart, I support people here. They are fighting against each other, and the U.S. government doesn't want to make their hands dirty," said the graduate student who depicted the pro-THAAD activists as "stupid."

Following the election of President Moon as the country's new leader, conservative pro-THAAD activists started a violent demonstration near the Soseong-ri village hall as well as across the Seongju county.

They tore up placards with anti-THAAD slogans, and some of them took a piss inside the Soseong-ri village hall.

"They were like the mentally ill. If they acted in accordance with their firm belief, it would be frightening. But, if it was an act to make a living, it would be understandable," said Bae Mee-young, a 40-year-old who runs a handicraft workshop in Seongju county.

Most of Seongju residents believed that pro-THAAD activists had been mobilized in return for money.

"THAAD supporters do not know well about what THAAD is. They just want to believe that THAAD is needed based on fake news," said Bae who likened the blind belief to a false religion.

"I'll fight against THAAD until it is withdrawn (from South Korea). The Korean Peninsula does not require THAAD," said Bae.