North Korea has put its frontline troops on combat readiness after delivering an ultimatum to South Korea to switch off its propaganda loudspeakers by Saturday afternoon or face military action.
The last direct attack on the South was in November 2010 when North Korea shelled the South Korean border island of Yeonpyeong, killing two civilians and two soldiers.
Both sides reported no casualties or damage in their territory from the latest incidents, indicating that the exchanges this time were just warning shots.
The South Korean government, a key U.S. ally, is so far showing no signs of backing down, with its Defense Ministry vowing to retaliate strongly to any additional North Korean provocations.
The latest broadcasts focus on the superiority of life in South Korea – as well as South Korean soap operas.
For the moment, there has been little sense of panic among ordinary South Koreans who have become largely inured over the years to the North’s regular – and regularly unrealised – threats of imminent war.
China, which remains reclusive North Korea’s main economic backer despite diminished political clout to influence Pyongyang, said it was deeply concerned about the escalation of tension and called for calm from both sides. Although the two allies argue the annual drill is nonprovocative and strictly defense-oriented, every year North Korea claims the war games are an existential threat and warns that a strong military action will be forthcoming if the exercise is not canceled.
South Korea has accused North Korea of deliberately planting the mines on a patrol route in the southern part of the zone; an investigation by the U.S.-led United Nations Command in Korea, which monitors the truce at the border, reached the same conclusion.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, citing an unidentified government source, reported that South Korean and US surveillance assets detected the movement of vehicles carrying short-range Scud and medium-range Rodong missiles in possible preparation for launches.
South Korean Vice Defence Minister Baek Seung-joo said it was likely the North would fire at some of the 11 sites where the loudspeakers are set up on the South’s side of the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) separating the countries.
U.S. Forces Korea noted early Friday that the ongoing Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise would continue as planned.
“We are in close contact with our Republic of Korea allies and remain committed to the defense of the ROK”, it said.
Han Minkoo has defended anti-Pyongyang loudspeaker broadcasts, saying they are South Korea’s response to a land mine that maimed two South Korean soldiers. There were no other immediate details from the military, but it appeared that North Korea did not respond to South Korea’s returned fire.
The North’s recent moves underscored the desperate attempt to protect what it calls the “dignity” of its leader Kim Jong-un – a top priority among North Koreans.
Pyongyang gave an ultimatum to Seoul to halt all provocations of sending propaganda across the border.
Residents of a village in Paju, near the border next to the area where a shell landed on Thursday, anxiously awaited the deadline and prepared to head into a bomb shelter, the head of the township of Haemaru, Cho Seong-ho, said by telephone. The South responded by launching dozens of 155-millimeter artillery rounds at the North. About 28,500 U.S. soldiers are deployed in South Korea to deter potential aggression from North Korea.