The US military has started moving parts of a controversial anti-missile defence system to a deployment site in South Korea, amid high tensions over North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs.
South Korea’s Defence Ministry said some elements of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system were moved to the site on what had been a golf course in the country’s south.
“South Korea and the United States have been working to secure an early operational capability of the THAAD system in response to North Korea’s advancing nuclear and missile threat,” the ministry said in a statement.
According to the Yonhap news agency, the parts include two or three launchers, intercept missiles and at least one radar.
Television footage showed military trailers carrying large units including what appeared to be launch canisters being driven into the planned THAAD battery site.
About 8,000 police officers were mobilised and the main road leading up to the site was blocked earlier on Wednesday, Yonhap reported.
About 200 residents and protesters rallied in front of a local community centre, some hurling plastic water bottles at the vehicles.
THAAD move ‘very inappropriate’: Presidential frontrunner
The US and South Korean militaries have been reluctant to publicly discuss the progress of the deployment.
But candidates for South Korea’s May 9 presidential election have debated whether the move should go ahead or be delayed until after the vote.
A spokesman for frontrunner Moon Jae-in said the move by the US military to deploy elements of the THAAD anti-missile defence was strongly regrettable.
Mr Moon’s spokesman, Park Kwang-on, said in a statement the move was “very inappropriate” because it strips the next government of the right to make a policy decision on the controversial system.
The United States and South Korea agreed to deploy THAAD in response to the threat of missile launches by North Korea.
In early March, the US began moving the first elements of the advanced missile defence system into South Korea, after the North test-launched four ballistic missiles.
The move has angered China, which says THAAD will do little to deter the North while destabilising the regional security balance.
Washington and Pyongyang have been ratcheting up pressure on each other in recent weeks, with the US also sending a aircraft carrier group and a nuclear submarine to the region, and North Korea attempting more missile launches in defiance of UN sanctions.
The USS Michigan, a nuclear-powered submarine, arrived on Tuesday at the South Korean port of Busan for what was described as a routine visit to rest crew and load supplies.
On Wednesday, North Korea said its leader Kim Jong-un had supervised the country’s “largest-ever” live-fire drill to mark the 85th founding anniversary of its military, with more than 300 large-calibre, self-propelled artillery guns demonstrating their fire power at an event on the east coast.
Source: ABC News