Seven decades of ten­sion in Korean Penin­sula

Myan­mar con­tin­ues its con­tacts with North Korea

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS -

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has in­vited the South's Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in for a sum­mit in Py­ongyang, stir­ring hopes of a ten­ta­tive rap­proche­ment be­tween the bit­terly di­vided neigh­bours.

Ten­sions soared last year as the North made rapid progress on its banned nu­clear weapons pro­grammes, while US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump en­gaged in an in­creas­ingly bel­li­cose ver­bal scrap with Py­ongyang's leader.

Here are some key mo­ments in the decades-long stand­off be­tween the two Koreas:

War but no peace

In June 1950 fight­ing broke out be­tween the com­mu­nist North and cap­i­tal­ist South, spark­ing a bru­tal war that killed be­tween two and four mil­lion peo­ple. Beijing backed Py­ongyang in the three-year con­flict, while Wash­ing­ton threw its sup­port be­hind the South -- al­liances that have largely en­dured.

The Koreas have been locked in a dan­ger­ous dance ever since that con­flict ended in 1953 with an armistice rather than a for­mal peace treaty, leav­ing them tech­ni­cally at war.

Send­ing in the as­sas­sins

Py­ongyang has tested the frag­ile cease­fire with nu­mer­ous at­tacks. The se­cre­tive na­tion sent a team of 31 com­man­dos to Seoul in a botched at­tempt to as­sas­si­nate then-Pres­i­dent Park Chung-Hee in 1968. All but two were killed.

In the "axe mur­der in­ci­dent" of 1976, North Korean sol­diers at­tacked a work party try­ing to chop down a tree in­side the Demil­i­ta­rized Zone, leav­ing two US army of­fi­cers dead.

Py­ongyang launched per­haps its most au­da­cious as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt in Myan­mar in 1983, when a bomb ex­ploded in a Yangon mau­soleum dur­ing a visit by South Korean Pres­i­dent Chun Doo-hwan. He sur­vived but 21 peo­ple, in­clud­ing some gov­ern­ment min­is­ters, were killed.

In 1987 a bomb on a Korean Air flight ex­ploded over the An­daman Sea, killing all 115 peo­ple on board. Seoul ac­cused Py­ongyang, which de­nied in­volve­ment.

Di­rect con­fronta­tion

The North's found­ing leader Kim Il Sung died in 1994, but un­der his son Kim Jong Il it con­tin­ued to prod its south­ern neigh­bour.

In 1996 a North Korean sub­ma­rine on a spy­ing mis­sion ran aground off the eastern South Korean port of Gangne­ung, spark­ing 45-day man­hunt that ended with 24 crew mem­bers and in­fil­tra­tors killed.

A clash be­tween South Korean and North Korean naval ships in 1999 left some 50 of the North's sol­diers dead. In March 2010 Seoul ac­cused Py­ongyang of tor­pe­do­ing one of its corvette war­ships, killing 46 sailors. Py­ongyang de­nied the charge.

Novem­ber that year saw North Korea launch its first at­tack on a civil­ian-pop­u­lated area since the war, fir­ing 170 ar­tillery shells at Yeon­pyeong. Four peo­ple were killed, in­clud­ing two civil­ians.

The Koreas have been locked in a dan­ger­ous dance ever since that con­flict ended in 1953 with an armistice rather than a for­mal peace treaty, leav­ing them tech­ni­cally at war.

Go­ing nu­clear

North Korea has stead­fastly pur­sued its banned nu­clear and bal­lis­tic mis­sile pro­grammes since its first suc­cess­ful test of an atomic bomb in 2006, as it looks to build a rocket ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing a war­head to the US main­land.

Its progress has ac­cel­er­ated un­der leader Kim Jong Un, cul­mi­nat­ing in its sixth and big­gest nu­clear test in Septem­ber 2017. Kim has since de­clared the coun­try a nu­clear power.

'Peace Olympics'

De­spite the caus­tic ef­fect of clashes and the bat­tery of con­ven­tional weapons the North has amassed at the bor­der to threaten Seoul, the two na­tions have held talks in the past.

Then North Korean leader Kim Jong Il held two his­toric sum­mits with coun­ter­parts from the South in 2000 and 2007, which eased ten­sions be­tween the neigh­bours.

Lower-level talks since then have been much hyped but failed to pro­duce sig­nif­i­cant re­sults. The Win­ter Olympics in the South, dubbed by Seoul as a "Peace Olympics", have given the neigh­bours a pre­text to re­open com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

A spe­cial cross-bor­der hot­line buzzed back into life in Jan­uary 2018 af­ter two years and Kim Jong Un an­nounced Py­ongyang would send a team to the Games, which be­gan Fri­day.

At the open­ing cer­e­mony the two Koreas marched to­gether and Moon shared a his­toric hand­shake with Kim Jong Un's sis­ter, Kim Yong Nam, tech­ni­cally the high­est-level North­ern of­fi­cial ever to go to the South.

In a mes­sage de­liv­ered by Kim's sis­ter, the North's leader in­vited Moon for a sum­mit in Py­ongyang "at the ear­li­est date pos­si­ble", while the US warned against fall­ing for the Olympic charm of­fen­sive.

North Kore­ans have grown up with a fear that their coun­try is un­der threat from the United States and South Korea and Ja­pan. Photo: EPA

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