Tension on Border of 2 Koreas

Tension  on Border  of 2 KoreasTension  on Border  of 2 Koreas

North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un ordered his troops onto a war footing from 5 p.m. local time on Friday after his government issued an ultimatum to Seoul to halt anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts by Saturday afternoon or face military action.

The North's official KCNA news agency said the move came during an emergency meeting late on Thursday, which Kim presided as chairman, Al Jazeera reported.

During the meeting, Kim ordered frontline, combined units of the Korean People's Army to "enter a wartime state" from Friday 5 p.m. local time. The troops should be "fully battle ready to launch surprise operations" while the entire frontline should be placed in a "semi-war state," KCNA quoted him as saying.

The announcement follows an exchange of artillery shells across the two countries' heavily fortified border. South Korean Vice Defense 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 Demilitarized Zone, which separates the two countries. 

Tension escalated on Thursday when North Korea fired shells into South Korea to protest against the broadcasts. The South responded with a barrage of 29 artillery shells.

Both sides said there were no casualties or damage in their territory, an indication that the rounds were fired as warning shots and not intended to inflict harm.

 South Will Not Stop Broadcasts

Seoul began blasting anti-North Korean propaganda from loudspeakers on the border on August 10, days after landmine explosions wounded two South Korean soldiers along the zone, resuming a tactic that both sides had stopped in 2004. North Korea on Monday began conducting its own broadcasts.

Baek told parliament the South’s broadcasts would continue unless the North accepted responsibility and apologized for the mines. Pyongyang has denied it was responsible.

Since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, Pyongyang and Seoul have often exchanged threats and dozens of soldiers have been killed, yet the two sides have always pulled back from all-out war.

The renewed hostility is a further blow to South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s efforts to improve North-South ties, which have been virtually frozen since the deadly 2010 sinking of a South Korean navy ship, which Seoul blames on Pyongyang.

 Rare Ultimatum

Pyongyang’s declaration of a semi-state of war is its first use of such terminology since the North shelled a South Korean island in 2010, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said.

Two South Korean marines and two civilians were killed in that incident, which followed another ultimatum delivered by the North.

Its 48-hour ultimatum to halt the broadcasts, delivered in a letter to the South Korean Defense Ministry via a joint military communications channel, was also uncharacteristically specific. The deadline is around 5 p.m. on Saturday in Seoul.

The nature of the latest ultimatum was a bit unusual, said John Delury, a North Korea expert at Yonsei University in Seoul.

“North Korea is a constant front of generalized threats, but putting a time stamp on it makes things different. It puts both Seoul and Pyongyang’s necks on the chopping board. Someone has to blink here.”

 Grave Situation

Following the tensions, South Korea limited entry into an industrial park it runs jointly with North Korea, but the complex, seen as a barometer for the state of inter-Korean relations, continued to operate.

“This is now a very grave situation. So we need to operate Kaesong Industrial Complex with necessary but minimum personnel,” said Jeong Joon-hee, spokesman for the South’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs.

The factory park, a few kilometers north of the Korean border, is the last significant vestige of cooperation from a Korean leaders’ summit 15 years ago.