The South Korean Defense Ministry’s attempt on Thursday to bring construction materials and equipment for the U.S. missile defense base in Seongju, Northern Gyeongsang Province, failed in the face of local protesters. Some 3,000 police officers were mobilized to dissipate the protest, but it was suspended in about one hour and a half after a dozen of residents and several policemen got injured, and before pulling out, the police reached a deal with the residents to take out only heavy equipment including the forklifts and bulldozers carried into the area last November. The gateway into a core security facility has been occupied by illegal protesters, and a number of Korean and American soldiers have been suffering inconveniences, denied full access to basic facilities for daily life such as toilets.
The materials and equipment that the defense ministry tried to move were meant to be used for leakage repair on the roof of military quarters, sewage processing improvement and dining facility remodeling. Currently, some 400 soldiers including 130 American and 270 Korean men in uniform, but the capacity of cooking facility only holds 150 portions, with many of the servicemen resorting to field rations. The water pipe construction planned for last winter has yet to be done, further worsening the already bad living conditions such as toilet stench. Owing to the “inspection” by protesters, not only men but processed goods are airlifted by helicopters, and even the oil for generators is being transported by helicopter.
The rally on Thursday was attended by some 150 protesters including members of six anti-THAAD civic groups and local residents. They held up pickets reading “No more North Korea’s nuclear excuses,” “Illegal THAAD must be dismantled” and “No U.S. soldiers allowed in.” The intention of protesters is clear: knowing the irreversible nature of military deployment, they are trying to disrupt the operation of THAAD and spread anti-American sentiment as much as possible. In fact, the U.S. military has operated THAAD missile defense system for seven months, after deploying two radars and two launching pads in March and April and an additional four launchers in September in the initially provided missile defense site.
However, little progress has been made on the front of the much necessary reinforcement work of launching pads and base construction work, owing to the blockade by local protesters. The environment impact assessment on the 700,000 m²-wide site including the share of the second land provision is also in a stalemate. The men and women in uniform are being denied their right to basic necessities of life because of a handful of illegal protesters: think about how their parents in Korea and the United States will feel about their hardship. A serious skepticism will follow as to whether the Korean government has any will to cooperate for the deployment of THAAD and keep the safety of soldiers of its ally.