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(LEAD) Vice defense minister to hold talks with Seongju residents to resolve THAAD standoff

All News 20:15 July 22, 2016

(ATTN: ADDS photo)

SEOUL, July 22 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's vice defense minister is planning to hold talks with the residents of Seongju who are opposed to the deployment of an advanced U.S. anti-ballistic missile system in their county, official sources said Friday.

The move comes as Seoul is making an effort to allay health concerns related to the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system's powerful radar and listen to the grievances of locals.

"Vice Minister Hwang In-moo went to the rural county in the North Gyeongsang Province, 296 kilometers south of Seoul, on Friday. He plans to stay there until Sunday for talks with residents who are strongly against the decision by Seoul and Washington to deploy the THAAD system," an official at the Ministry of National Defense said.

He said for now, there is no fixed schedules for meetings with local residents, although adding that Defense Minister Han Min-koo is willing to visit Seongju again.

Earlier in the day, defense ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun said the government is fully committed to engaging in dialogue with the residents of Seongju and is ready to meet them if opportunities come up.

This is the second time a high-ranking government official is in the town to persuade locals to accept the planned THAAD deployment.

On July 13, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn and defense chief Han visited the town to offer an apology but failed to make any headway or hold face-to-face talks. Instead, angry protesters threw eggs and water bottles at the officials and kept them on a bus for about six hours before they returned to Seoul later the same day.

Seongju residents initially balked at potential health concerns related to the electromagnetic waves emanating from the THAAD's X-band radar, which they feared could cause cancer and infertility, but more recently have expressed anger at the fact that the deployment decision was made "unilaterally" without any consultation with them in advance.

In its latest efforts to show the safety of the THAAD battery, the defense ministry brought a group of Korean reporters to Guam where military officials from the U.S. and Korea jointly conducted tests to measure the level of electromagnetic waves coming from a THAAD radar in Guam.

They demonstrated that the radar posed no health risks, but Seongju residents were not impresssed with the results.

Some residents even said that for now they were not interested in holding talks with the government or any deal other than the government reconsidering its stance to set up the THAAD system in their midst.

On the other hand, some have hinted that if the policymakers decide to place the battery on a remote mountain, where there are almost no people nearby, they may be interested in negotiating.

Seoul said it wants to place the THAAD battery in Seongsan-ri region of Seongju on the site of an Air Force anti-aircraft missile base.

kyongae.choi@yna.co.kr
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