Nkorea Warns Of War After Exchange Of Fire With South
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Friday declared his frontline troops in a “quasi-state of war” and ordered them to prepare for battle a day after South Korea fired dozens of artillery rounds across the rivals’ border in response to what the South said were several rounds of North Korean artillery launched at the South.
The North has made similar bombastic claims in the decades since the countries were divided following World War II, and the huge numbers of soldiers and military equipment stationed along the Koreas’ tense border mean the area is always essentially in a “quasi-state of war.” Still, the North’s declaration could signal trouble because South Korea has vowed to hit back with overwhelming strength should North Korea attack again.
North Korea says it did not fire anything, a claim Seoul called nonsense.
Kim ordered at an emergency military meeting that his troops would “enter a wartime state” and be fully ready for any military operations starting Friday evening, according to Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency. The North has also given Seoul a deadline of Saturday evening to remove border loudspeakers that, after a lull of 11 years, have started broadcasting anti-Pyongyang propaganda.
The report said that “military commanders were urgently dispatched for operations to attack South Korean psychological warfare facilities if the South doesn’t stop operating them.”
Seoul said the North fired Thursday across the Demilitarized Zone to back up an earlier threat to attack the South Korean loudspeakers. North Korea later said the South Korean shells landed near four military posts but caused no injuries. No one was reported injured in the South, either, though hundreds were evacuated from frontline towns.
The loudspeaker broadcasts began after South Korea accused the North of planting land mines that maimed two South Korean soldiers earlier this month.
Authoritarian North Korea, which has also restarted its own propaganda broadcasts, is extremely sensitive to any criticism of the government run by leader Kim Jong Un, whose family has ruled since the North was founded in 1948. The broadcasts are taken seriously in Pyongyang because the government does not want its soldiers and residents to hear outsiders criticize what they call world-leading human rights abuse and economic mismanagement that condemns many to abject poverty, South Korean analysts say.
North Korea on Thursday afternoon first fired a single round believed to be from an anti-aircraft gun, which landed near a South Korean border town, Seoul said. About 20 minutes later, three North Korean artillery shells fell on the southern side of the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas. South Korea responded with dozens of 155-milimeter artillery rounds, according to South Korean defense officials.
The exchange stopped there, but the North’s army warned in a message later Thursday that it would take further military action if South Korea didn’t pull down the loudspeakers within 48 hours.
South Korea’s military warned Friday that North Korea must refrain from engaging in “rash acts” or face strong punishment, according to South Korea’s Defense Ministry.
South Korea raised its military readiness to its highest level. Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman Jeon Ha-kyu told a televised news conference that South Korea is ready to repel any additional provocation. Defense officials said South Korea will continue the loudspeaker broadcasts despite the threats.
After two attacks blamed on Pyongyang killed 50 South Koreans in 2010, South Korea’s military warned any future North Korean attack could trigger strikes by South Korea that are three times as large.
The artillery exchange comes during another point of tensions between the Koreas: annual U.S.-South Korean military drills that North Korea calls an invasion rehearsal. Seoul and Washington say the drills are defensive in nature.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye convened an emergency National Security Council meeting and ordered South Korea’s military to “resolutely” deal with any provocation by North Korea.
On Friday, about 60 residents in the South Korean town near where the shell fell, Yeoncheon, remained evacuated in underground bunkers, Yeoncheon officials said. Yonhap reported that a total of about 2,000 residents along the border were evacuated Thursday.
While the Koreas regularly exchange hostile rhetoric, it is also not unusual for fighting to occasionally erupt. Last October, North Korean troops opened fire at areas in Yeoncheon, after South Korean activists launched balloons there that carried propaganda leaflets across the border. South Korea returned fire, but no casualties were reported. Later in October, border guards from the two Koreas again exchanged gunfire along the border, without any casualties. Also in 2010, an alleged North Korean torpedo attack killed 46 South Korean sailors.
South Korea has said the two soldiers wounded from the mine explosions were on a routine patrol in the southern part of the DMZ that separates the two Koreas. One soldier lost both legs and the other one leg. Pyongyang says that Seoul fabricated its evidence on the land mines and demanded video proof.
The Koreas’ mine-strewn DMZ is a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, leaving the Korean Peninsula still technically in a state of war. About 28,500 U.S. soldiers are deployed in South Korea to deter potential aggression from North Korea.