According to South Korea's Yonhap news agency, the U.S. military has started moving equipments of the controversial THAAD anti-missile defense system into its planned deployment site in South Korea.
The positioning began early Wednesday morning at the Sungju golf club in Sungju County of South Korea, where trailer trucks carrying parts of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system entered the site on what had been a golf course.
Predictably, the locals were quite unhappy, and Yonhap adds that the transport of radars and other military gear caused local residents to clash with police forces. At 4:30 am on Wednesday, the police blocked 500 some protesters in front of Sogongri Village Hall in Choseon-myeon, Seongju-gun, which is the entrance to Seongju Golf Course.
The THAAD has been a point of contention among not just residents and law enforcement. Beijing has been an outspoken critic of the THAAD system in South Korea.
The US military is expected to move all of its vehicle-mounted mobile launchers, radars, interceptor missiles, and combat control stations that have been stored in Busan and Chilgok.
The United States and South Korea had agreed to deploy THAAD in response to threat of missile launches by North Korea but China has opposed the move saying it helps little to deter the North while destabilizing regional security balance, reuters notes.
While the US began moving the first elements of the advanced missile defense system into South Korea in early March after the North test-launched four ballistic missiles, the U.S. and South Korean militaries had been reluctant to publicly discuss the progress of the deployment as candidates in a May 9 presidential election debated whether the move should go ahead or be delayed until after the vote.
The THAAD is a ground-based missile interceptor system primarily designed to thwart medium range missile threats. Chinese government officials see THAAD as an encroachment of US military might in the nation's backyard.
It was not immediately clear if the deployment is an indication that the US and South Korean militaries anticipate an imminent escalation in the conflict with North Korea.