South Korea: North Korea builds up spe­cial forces

The Pak Banker - - 6i Nternational -

SEOUL: North Korea has faster, more pow­er­ful tanks prowl­ing the world's most heav­ily armed border and 200,000 spe­cial forces poised to carry out as­sas­si­na­tions and cause havoc in South Korea, a ma­jor mil­i­tary re­view said Thurs­day.

Seoul's De­fense Min­istry re­port, re­leased ev­ery two years, sig­nals that the North's mil­i­tary threat has ex­panded. It comes as Pres­i­dent Lee Myung-bak's ad­min­is­tra­tion scram­bles to re­spond to crit­i­cism that it was un­pre­pared for a Nov. 23 North Korean ar­tillery at­tack on a front-line is­land that killed four peo­ple.

That at­tack, along with an al­leged North Korean tor­pe­do­ing of a war­ship in March, has prompted South Korea to de­fine the North in the de­fense doc­u­ment as its "en­emy," a stronger de­scrip­tion than in 2008 when the North was only called a "di­rect and se­ri­ous threat."

South Korean de­fense doc­u­ments stopped re­fer­ring to North Korea as "the main en­emy" - a con­stant sub­ject of North Korean crit­i­cism - in 2004 amid then-warm­ing ties. The North's state me­dia an­grily re­acted to the new ref­er­ence later Thurs­day, call­ing it a "grave provo­ca­tion" that could trig­ger war.

The new doc­u­ment says the North in­tends to rely on its nu­clear pro­gram, spe­cial forces, long-range ar­tillery, sub­marines and cy­ber war­fare forces as a coun­ter­weight to South Korea's high-tech con­ven­tional mil­i­tary.

North Korea has 200,000 spe­cial op­er­a­tions forces, the re­port says, an in­crease from 180,000 in the min­istry's last as­sess­ment in 2008. Those forces are aimed at car­ry­ing out as­sas­si­na­tions and in­fil­trat­ing and dis­rupt­ing key fa­cil­i­ties in South Korea, it said.

The North's army de­ploys many of its 13,600 long-range ar­tillery guns along the Demil­i­ta­rized Zone, ready to launch sur­prise ar­tillery bar­rages on Seoul and its ad­ja­cent ar­eas, the doc­u­ment said. Seoul is only about 30 miles (50 kilo­me­ters) away from the border. The coun­try also has de­vel­oped a new kind of bat­tle tank with bet­ter fire­power and mo­bil­ity than pre­vi­ous ones, and the mod­ern tanks have been de­ployed near the border, it said.

The North's au­thor­i­tar­ian leader Kim Jong Il has made a pri­or­ity of try­ing to build mil­i­tary power su­pe­rior to the South's, and its forces "are pos­ing a se­ri­ous threat to South Korea's mil­i­tary," the doc­u­ment said. How­ever, de­spite the North's asym­met­ri­cal forces, an­a­lysts say there is lit­tle like­li­hood that North Korea would launch an all-out war against South Korea, whose mil­i­tary is bol­stered by 28,500 Amer­i­can troops in the coun­try. -Ap

POD­GOR­ICA: Mon­tene­gro's newly ap­pointed Prime Min­is­ter Igor Luk­sic (R) talks with for­mer prime min­is­ter Milo Djukanovic. -Reuters

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