N. Korea threats worry Guam res­i­dents

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - GRACE GARCES BORDALLO AND CATHY BUSSEWITZ In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Mark Thiessen and Josh Lederman of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

HAGATNA, Guam — Res­i­dents of the Pa­cific is­land of Guam say they’re afraid of be­ing caught in the mid­dle of es­ca­lat­ing ten­sions be­tween the U.S. and North Korea af­ter Py­ongyang an­nounced that it was ex­am­in­ing plans for at­tack­ing the strate­gi­cally im­por­tant U.S. ter­ri­tory.

Though lo­cal of­fi­cials down­played any threat and Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son was un­ruf­fled as he headed to Guam to re­fuel on his trip back to Wash­ing­ton from Malaysia, peo­ple who live and work on the is­land said they could no longer shrug off the idea of be­ing a po­ten­tial tar­get. Guam serves as a launch­ing pad for the U.S. mil­i­tary.

“I’m a lit­tle wor­ried, a lit­tle pan­icked. Is this re­ally go­ing to hap­pen?” said Ce­cil Chugrad, a 37-year-old bus driver for a tour bus com­pany in Guam. “If it’s just me, I don’t mind, but I have to worry about my son. I feel like mov­ing [out of Guam] now.”

About 163,000 peo­ple live on the is­land that spans only about 12 miles at its widest. They are used to the threats from North Korea. But ad­vances in the coun­try’s nu­clear pro­gram paired with fiery rhetoric from Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has raised the al­ready high an­i­mos­ity and height­ened worries that a mis­cal­cu­la­tion might spark con­flict be­tween the nu­clear-armed na­tions.

Re­ports sug­gested North Korea mas­tered a tech­no­log­i­cal hur­dle needed to strike the U.S. with a nu­clear mis­sile. The ad­vances were de­tailed in an of­fi­cial Ja­panese as­sess­ment and later a Wash­ing­ton Post story that cited U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials and a con­fi­den­tial De­fense In­tel­li­gence Agency re­port.

In re­sponse, Trump on Tues­day threat­ened the com­mu­nist coun­try “with fire and fury.” On Wed­nes­day, the North Korean army said in a state­ment that it was study­ing a plan to cre­ate an “en­velop­ing fire” in ar­eas around Guam with medium- to lon­grange bal­lis­tic mis­siles.

On his flight back to Wash­ing­ton, Tiller­son said he never con­sid­ered re-rout­ing the trip to avoid re­fu­el­ing in Guam.

“I do not be­lieve that there is any im­mi­nent threat,” Tiller­son told re­porters aboard the plane. “What we’re hope­ful is that this pres­sure cam­paign [in­clud­ing sanc­tions], which the en­tire world now has joined us in, and with the en­gage­ment of China and Rus­sia, two of North Korea’s clos­est neigh­bors — that they can be­gin to per­suade the regime that they needed to re­con­sider the cur­rent path­way they’re on and think about en­gag­ing in a di­a­logue about a dif­fer­ent fu­ture.”

Still, some res­i­dents of Guam were con­cerned.

“If any­thing hap­pens, we all got to be ready, be pre­pared, and pray to God that it doesn’t hap­pen,” Daisy Men­di­ola, 56, said af­ter fin­ish­ing lunch with her fam­ily at a restau­rant near Hagatna. “Ev­ery­one’s afraid be­cause we’re deal­ing with pow­ers that’s be­yond us.”

Other res­i­dents are wor­ried about the po­lit­i­cal at­mos­phere and the gov­ern­ment’s abil­ity to find a peace­ful so­lu­tion.

Todd Thomp­son, a lawyer who lives on Guam, said he laughed off past threats be­cause he “fig­ured cooler heads in Wash­ing­ton would pre­vail, and it was just an idle threat.”

“But I have to say, I’m not laugh­ing now,” Thomp­son said. “My con­cern is that things have changed in Wash­ing­ton, and who knows what’s go­ing to hap­pen?”

His brother Mitch Thomp­son, who also lives on Guam, said he be­lieves that “a lot of peo­ple have no con­fi­dence that the White House will do the right thing un­der the cir­cum­stances.”

How­ever, the brothers say they haven’t seen any­one pan­ick­ing or stock­ing up on sup­plies.

“I think peo­ple are just stunned and re­ally don’t know what to think,” Todd Thomp­son said.

Guam is about 2,100 miles south­east of Py­ongyang and 3,800 miles west of Honolulu in the Pa­cific Ocean. For years, North Korea has claimed Guam is within its mis­siles’ strik­ing dis­tance, is­su­ing sharp state­ments each time the U.S. flew bombers from the is­land’s air base to the Korean Penin­sula.

AP/Korea News Ser­vice/Korean Cen­tral News Agency

In this un­dated file photo dis­trib­uted by the North Korean gov­ern­ment on May 22, a solid-fuel “Pukguk­song-2” mis­sile lifts off dur­ing its launch test at an undis­closed lo­ca­tion in North Korea.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.