The South Korean people residing near a golf course turned over to the country’s military by a major retail company to host a controversial US missile system have sued the Defense Ministry.
The lawsuit, filed by residents of Seongju County and neighboring Gimcheon on Tuesday, claimed that the ministry had bypassed legally-required procedures, including prior agreement from local people and an environmental impact assessment.
The legal action was launched hours after a subsidiary of South Korea’s giant retailer Lotte Group signed a deal with the ministry to hand over the golf course in the southeast of the country in exchange for a piece of military-owned land on the outskirts of the capital Seoul.
“This is only the beginning of our legal battles to stop this project,” said attorney Kim Yu-Jeong in a press briefing outside the ministry, where dozens of activists and residents also gathered to stage a protest rally.
Protest leader in Seongju County, Kim Chung-Hwan, said that hundreds of soldiers and riot police had been deployed at the golf course to guard its entrances.
The South Korean military also reportedly planned to use helicopters to bring in barbed wire fencing to close off the site.
Lotte Group has also come under intense pressure by its key target market China over the land swap.
The scheme by the US and South Korean militaries to station the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system in response to threats allegedly from North Korea has enraged China, which says the move will challenge its own security.
The Yonhap news agency cited an unnamed South Korean Defense Ministry official as saying that the THAAD system would be in place as early as May or June.
Under its land swap deal with the South Korean military, the Lotte Group would provide 1,480,000 square meters of land in Seongju — with an estimated value of 7.9 million dollars — for 67,000 square meters of land on the outskirts of Seoul.