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(LEAD) S. Korea selects golf course as 'final' site for THAAD

All News 15:16 September 30, 2016

(ATTN: REWRITES lead, ADDS more details throughout)

SEOUL, Sept. 30 (Yonhap) -- South Korea has selected a golf course in the southeastern part of the nation as the "final" site for an advanced American missile defense system to counter threats from North Korea, the defense ministry said Friday.

The decision comes some two and a half months after Seoul and Washington picked the Seongsan anti-aircraft missile base in Seongju, 296 kilometers southeast of Seoul, to host the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system by 2017.

"We have conducted a simulation-based evaluation on three alternative sites in Seongju. The test results showed the Lotte Skyhill Country Club is the most optimal site for THAAD in terms of six principles," Moon Sang-gyun, a spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense, told Yonhap News Agency.

The six principles are operational effectiveness, resident health concerns, infrastructure, overall safety considerations, construction time and cost, and the required preparation time for installation. Three candidate sites in three different townships were Mt. Yeomsok in Geumsoo, Mt. Kkachi in Sooryoon and the golf course operated by Lotte Group in Mt. Dalma, Chojeon.

This undated file image shows an interceptor fired from a THAAD launcher against the background of a golf course in Seongju and local residents protesting the THAAD deployment due to health concerns. (Yonhap)

Early on Friday, Defense Minister Han Min-koo met with ruling and opposition party leaders to explain the decision.

Defense ministers of South Korea and the United States on Thursday approved the results of the monthlong evaluations jointly conducted by the allies that ended on Sept. 27, according to a one-page report submitted by the defense ministry to the parties.

"As it requires a whole new infrastructure to host a THAAD battery in Mt. Kkachi and Mt. Yeomsok, it is hard to meet the scheduled deployment year of 2017. But in case of the golf course in Mt. Dalma, it is possible to deploy the THAAD system there in time as it is already equipped with the necessary infrastructure for the installation," the report said.

In follow-up steps, the ministry plans to acquire the golf club from Lotte Group, to have further consultations with the U.S. to complete the deployment within the targeted timeframe and proceed with planning and construction work, showed the report.

"The government is determined to finish the THAAD installation within next year without fail to better protect the security of the country and life of its people from evolving nuclear and missile threats from North Korea," it said.

Pyongyang has raised the stakes this year by conducting two nuclear tests and launching a series of ballistic missiles as the communist regime marches toward its stated goal of developing a nuclear-tipped intercontinental missile that could reach the U.S. mainland.

Other defense officials went to Seongju and the city of Gimcheon to explain the standards on which the decision was made to local political leaders. Seongju largely accepted the revised offer, but Gimcheon refused to have a meeting with the officials.

When the allies picked the site for THAAD in July, they evaluated publicly-owned properties only due mainly to cost reasons. Back then, the golf course and other privately-held assets there were not even considered as candidates, the defense ministry said.

This photo taken on Sept. 24, 2016 shows Gimcheon residents protesting against a possible selection of a golf course in Seongju, 296 kilometers southeast of Seoul, as final site for THAAD due to health worries in a rally held in the city. (Yonhap)

Local residents in Seongju have strongly protested against the previous decision, demanding a shift in the site to deploy a THAAD battery be changed due to perceived health problems caused by the system's powerful X-band radar.

In response, the military examined the three alternate sites to check if they were suitable for the U.S. anti-missile system.

The golf course, 18 kilometers north of the Seongju County center, sits 680 meters above sea level, about 300 m higher than the previously selected anti-aircraft missile base. It's also more isolated from residential areas than the missile base and could alleviate local residents' concerns that THAAD's radar could cause them health problems.

The golf course location, however, could cause problems for the adjacent city of Gimcheon, since the radar would be pointing in the direction of the nearby city. Gimcheon residents already threatened "a full-scale protest" if the golf course is selected.

Another hurdle for the defense officials will be the purchase of the golf course. Business conglomerate Lotte Group owns the country club, and the price tag could fetch over 100 billion won (US$91 million). Securing the budget to make the acquisition will require parliamentary approval.

kyongae.choi@yna.co.kr
(END)

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