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Echoes of war as S. Korean grannies on protest front lines
By Jung Ha-Won
Busan, South Korea (AFP) Oct 18, 2017

US commander must 'imagine the unimaginable' on NKorea
Singapore (AFP) Oct 17, 2017 - The top US commander in the Pacific warned Tuesday he must "imagine the unimaginable" in responding to the threat posed by the North Korea's nuclear weapons programme.

Admiral Harry Harris, head of the US Pacific Command, made clear that while diplomacy remains the preferred option in pressing Pyongyang to abandon its atomic weapons programme, that approach is backed by "credible" military power.

"Many people have talked about military options being unimaginable regarding North Korea," Harris said at an annual forum in Singapore.

"Folks, I must imagine the unimaginable. And what is unimaginable to me are North Korean nuclear-tipped missiles delivered in Los Angeles, in Honolulu, in Seoul, in Tokyo, in Sydney, in Singapore," he said.

US President Donald Trump and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis "do not come to me and ask for diplomatic or economic solutions," he added, speaking at an event organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

"They come to me and ask for hard power options and that's what I provide them."

Tensions over North Korea's weapons programme have soared in recent months, with Pyongyang launching a flurry of missiles and conducting its sixth and most powerful nuclear test.

Trump has engaged in an escalating war of words with the North's leader Kim Jong-Un, trading personal insults and threatening to "totally destroy" the country if it threatens the United States.

But US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Sunday that Trump wanted to avoid war, even though the president said on Twitter that Tillerson was "wasting his time" with diplomacy.

Harris declined to comment when asked if the US military options included a preemptive strike.

But he called Kim a "reckless dictator" and warned that "combining nuclear warheads with ballistic missiles in the hands of a volatile leader ... is a recipe for disaster."

North Korea on Monday told the United Nations that it will never negotiate the dismantling of its nuclear weapons unless the United States reverses its "hostile" policy.

The US and South Korea on Monday began a 10-day joint naval exercise in a fresh show of force against the North, with a US aircraft carrier and two US destroyers taking part.

A powerful US missile system installed in South Korea to defend it from the nuclear-armed North made international headlines this year. But the stars of a film about the project are the grandmothers who found themselves living next to some of the world's most advanced weapons.

The South Korean documentary "Soseongri" shows how the deployment transformed a previously sleepy farming district into a domestic and international political battleground.

Most of the protagonists are in their 80s, enabling the documentary-makers to draw parallels between the Korean War and the peninsula's current tensions as they recount their own nightmarish memories of the 1950-53 conflict.

Seoul last year announced the deployment of the US Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to guard against growing missile threats from Pyongyang.

But the plan drew fire from both China, which saw THAAD as a threat to its own security, and residents of Seongju, the southeastern county designated to host it. Soseongri is the closest village to the former golf course where THAAD was installed in March.

The deployment sparked months of protests and demonstrators clashed with police as they struggled to prevent US army trucks carrying missile parts entering the village.

The 89-minute film, which had its world premiere at the current Busan International Film Festival, captured moments of confusion, anger and fear when elderly farmers who had spent almost all their lives in the village suddenly found themselves at the centre of international diplomatic controversy.

Military helicopters fly overhead and huge lorries roll into Soseongri along a road flanked by angry residents and anti-US activists, and hundreds of police.

"This whole thing reminds us of the war," says one villager.

- 'Spawn of the devil' -

The THAAD deployment met a mixed response in the South, with surveys showing around half supported it, slightly more than a third against, and the rest undecided.

Some people welcome its defensive capability, while others see it as a US bid to bolster its military presence against China at the expense of its ally Seoul.

Beijing -- the South's top trading partner -- has slapped a series of measures against South Korean businesses, widely seen as economic retaliation.

But the film does not directly address the diplomatic tit-for-tat, concentrating instead on the elderly residents' daily lives as their village is flooded by competing groups of activists.

The villagers join the anti-THAAD protesters for fears of being the first target of a Northern attack, waving a banner reading "THAAD leaves, peace comes" and setting up tents in the road to try to stop incoming military trucks.

But hundreds of conservative, pro-THAAD activists also descend on the village to loudly accuse the residents of being "North Korea followers" and "spawn of the devil" who should be "clubbed to death".

- Hearts and minds -

The villagers repeatedly drew parallels with the devastating Korean War, when airborne bombings and civilian killings over ideological differences were commonplace.

"Whenever someone was beaten to death, we ran to the bamboo forests so as to not to hear the sound," said one.

Millions were killed in a conflict that sealed the division of the Korean peninsula, which is technically still at war after it ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty.

Another resident added: "We were attacked by planes during the Korean War, but now our hearts and minds are hurt."

Despite the village's violent past and tumultuous present, much of the film features serene -- and often comical -- scenes of its aged inhabitants tending their crops and rice paddies or joking together in a small community hall.

Director Park Bae-Il says he tried to portray how the regional arms race rattled the aged farmers' seemingly boring but peaceful daily lives, and their deep-rooted fear of weapons and war.

"All news media only talked about politics and diplomacy over THAAD but rarely showed the actual human faces behind this controversy, or the voices of the actual people who live there," Park told AFP.

The film's underlying message against conflict and weapons might sound naive or idealistic when the North and the US regularly trade threats of apocalyptic violence, he acknowledged.

"But now more than ever is the time for us to hear the voices of the people who actually went through the horrors of war."

N. Korea readies missile launch ahead of US-S. Korea drill: report
Seoul (AFP) Oct 14, 2017
North Korea is believed to be preparing to launch a ballistic missile ahead of an upcoming joint naval drill by the US and South Korea, a news report said Saturday, citing a government source. The US navy said Friday that a US aircraft carrier will lead the drill in the coming week, a fresh show of force against North Korea as tensions soar over the hermit state's weapons programme. The ... read more

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