Sat, Jun 17, 2017 - Page 6 News List

S Korean grannies vow to fight THAAD until the end

Reuters, SOSEONG-RI, South Korea

Soseong-ri residents confront a police officer during an anti-Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system protest near the entrance of a golf course where the system is deployed in Seongju, South Korea, on Wednesday.

Photo: Reuters

In Soseong-ri, a small farming village of about 80 residents in southern South Korea, a band of elderly women is at the forefront of protests against the deployment of a US anti-missile system next to their neighborhood.

A dozen or so women, in their 60s to 80s, stand watch each day around the clock to make sure no military vehicles enter the deployment site through the only road to it — a former golf course owned by conglomerate Lotte Group.

The vigil has forced the US military to use helicopters instead to shuttle fuel and supplies to the site hosting the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system.

South Korea’s former conservative government agreed with the US to deploy the battery to counter growing threats from North Korean missiles, but South Korean President Moon Jae-in had promised to review the controversial decision during his successful election campaign last month.

Last week, Moon ordered full deployment be suspended while the government reviews how the system would affect the area’s environment, but there is no intention to change the deployment decision and elements of the battery, including two launchers already installed at the site, would stay, his government said.

The women, who brandish canes and umbrellas at the military helicopters and shout for them to go away every time one flies through the village, say they have no interest in the politics of the deployment — they long for the peace they had before.

“I can’t sleep. I’m taking sedatives at night, but I still get only two hours of sleep,” said 87-year-old Na Wi-bun, who lives within 1km of the site and says she can hear the generator that powers THAAD humming around the clock.

Na goes to the town hall every day, a refuge to a group of women as well as a number of civic groups protesting the deployment.

“During the daytime, we used to farm and later go to the town hall, and us grandmothers would spend time together. Now there’s no day and night for us. I live at the town hall now,” 81-year-old Do Geum-ryeon said.

Most of the villagers are farmers of chamoe, or Korean melon.

Do, who moved to the village 61 years ago, said she sustained bruises fighting against police in late April, trying to keep US military trailers full of THAAD components from passing through the village at early dawn.

“On my dying breath, I’m going to tell them to take THAAD away,” she said.

On the site now are two launchers and a powerful X-band radar that constitute THAAD. The launchers are visible to the naked eye from a mountain peak roughly 2km to 3km away and the generator can be heard from the mountain.

Visitors who scale the 600m peak to look at THAAD are shooed away by South Korean police officers holed up in a guard post near the summit.

Soseong-ri Mayor Lee Seok-ju said he has warned villagers of a long fight ahead.

“I see this going on for at least two years, and at longest, even five. If this was going to end in one or two days, we would have fought tooth and nail, but we’re saving our energy for the long run,” Lee said.

Soseong-ri is part of North Gyeongsang province, long known for being a conservative stronghold. With THAAD, that has changed.

When conservative candidate Park Geun-hye was elected South Korean president in 2012, voter support stood at near 90 percent for her in Seongju County, where Soseong-ri is located.

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