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(LEAD) Defense chief meets residents near THAAD candidate site

All Headlines 15:12 September 01, 2016

(ATTN: ADDS photos, comments from representative of Gimcheon residents in paras 6-9)

SEOUL, Sept. 1 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's defense chief on Thursday met several people from a rural city near a candidate site that could be picked to host an advanced U.S. antimissile system, the defense ministry said.

Defense Minister Han Min-koo held talks at 12:30 p.m. with the mayor of the southeastern city of Gimcheon and seven civilian representatives for a longer-than-scheduled one hour at his office in the ministry's headquarters in Seoul, a spokesman told reporters.

The meeting is the latest in a series of moves by the government to ease lingering public health concerns over the planned deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, that the government wants deployed by late 2017 in Seongju County, which is adjacent to Gimcheon.

Gimcheon is located just north of one of three alternative sites that could be selected to host the U.S. artillery unit. Seongju is located 296 kilometers southeast of Seoul.

Han listened to worries expressed by residents of Gimcheon over the possible deployment of a THAAD battery at the Lotte Skyhill Country Club. He will also explain why a THAAD battery should be placed in Seongju due to strategic and cost reasons, the spokesman said.

Kim Se-woon, who represents some 142,000 Gimcheon residents, told reporters after the meeting, "We won't sit idly if the government picks the golf course as the alternate site for THAAD instead of the formerly designated Seongsan artillery base. That's because the golf course belongs to the Seongju County but is close to Gimcheon."

For the government, it will be best to stick to the selected site as long as there are no serious health risks posed by radar waves from the THAAD system, Kim said.

"If the government decides to install THAAD at the golf course, Gimcheon residents will stage a full-scale protest against the decision. We will never accept it," he said.

He also asked the ministry to include Gimcheon residents in the selection process for an alternate site as it promised to include Seongju residents in the process.

"Minister Han said he will give serious consideration to our request," he said.

On Monday, the ministry said it will conduct detailed examinations into three sites in Seongju -- Mt. Yeomsok in Geumsoo-myeon, Mt. Kkachi in Sooryoon-myeon and the golf course operated by Lotte Group in Chojeon-myeon -- to check if alternate locations are appropriate for a THAAD battery.

The move comes as Seongju residents strongly protested the government's decision to install THAAD at the Seongsan artillery base, which is not too far away from the county's main population center.

The government announced on July 8 that it plans to deploy a THAAD battery in South Korea.

Related to the three sites, the defense ministry already found the first two sites as inappropriate for the missile defense system due mainly to cost reasons and lack of infrastructure. The golf course in northern Seongju has emerged as a likely alternative site due to its remote location from residential areas and good infrastructure.

The government will apply six principles -- operational effectiveness, residents' health concerns, infrastructure, overall safety considerations, construction time and cost, and the preparation period for installation -- to select an alternative site as quickly as possible, the ministry said.

kyongae.choi@yna.co.kr
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