A South Korean presidential probe into the “unauthorized” US deployment of additional missile launchers in South Korea
has found that the Asian country’s own military
authorities had deliberately withheld the information from the new president.
The office of the newly-elected President Moon Jae-in
announced on Wednesday that documents submitted to the chief executive shortly after he was sworn into office earlier this month were intentionally censored to conceal information on the installment of four new rocket launchers of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system.
Moon’s spokesman, Yoon Young-chan, said the country’s top military brass who briefed the president’s national security adviser last week deliberately excised references to any new launchers, or to the total number installed in the country.
“These parts… were included in the original briefing report written by a working-level official but later deleted by his supervisors,” Yoon added in a press briefing.
He said all military officials involved in generating the report admitted that these key parts had been removed from the text in the editing process.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in (photo by AFP)
Seoul agreed last year to install the US-built missile system to guard against potential threats from nuclear-armed North Korea
.Two missile launchers were already deployed in South Korea
’s southern county of Seongju, and the existence of four more had been widely suspected but never declared.
Yoon said Defense Minister Han Min-koo finally admitted to the presence of the new missile launchers when pressed by Moon in a telephone conversation on Tuesday.
Moon expressed “shock” on Tuesday after hearing about the existence of the additional launchers and directed his senior secretary for civil affair and the head of National Security Office “to find the truth behind the unauthorized entry of the four rocket launchers,” according to Yoon.
Han was appointed by former president Park Geun-hye, who was ousted for her alleged involvement in a massive corruption scandal.
The new launchers arrived in South Korea before Moon took office on May 10 and are currently stored at a US military base in the country, Moon’s office added, without further explanation.
No specific reason was offered as to why the information had been withheld from the South Korean president by the country’s military chiefs. The new president had previously expressed reservations about THAAD’s hasty deployment.
The conservative government of Park approved the installation of the US missile system despite strong objections nationally and internationally — mainly from Russia, China, and North Korea.
Moon, meanwhile, reportedly intends to put the deployment on hold, saying that it should be discussed and approved by lawmakers before being fully rolled out.
The US maintains nearly 29,000 military servicemen stationed in South Korea.