Ri­val Koreas trade ar­tillery, rocket fire at bor­der

The China Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY HYUNG- JIN KIM

South Korea fired dozens of shells Thurs­day at ri­val North Korea af­ter the North lobbed a sin­gle rocket at a South Korean town near the world’s most heav­ily armed bor­der, the South’s De­fense Min­istry said.

The North was back­ing up an ear­lier threat to at­tack South Korean bor­der loud­speak­ers that, af­ter a lull of 11 years, have started broad­cast­ing anti-Py­ongyang pro­pa­ganda. The broad­casts are in re­sponse to Seoul’s ac­cu­sa­tion that the North planted land mines on the South Korean side of the Demil­i­ta­rized Zone that maimed two South Korean sol­diers ear­lier this month.

The min­istry said in a state­ment that its ar­tillery shells landed at the site where North Korea had fired its rocket. There were no other de­tails from the mil­i­tary and no re­ports of in­juries.

North Korea didn’t re­spond mil­i­tar­ily to South Korea’s ar­tillery bar­rage Thurs­day, but its army later warned in a mes­sage that it will take fur­ther mil­i­tary ac­tion within 48 hours if South Korea doesn’t pull down the loud­speak­ers, ac­cord­ing to South Korea’s De­fense Min­istry.

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. Py­ongyang wor­ries that the broad­casts could weaken Kim’s grip on ab­so­lute power, an­a­lysts say.

The ar­tillery ex­change also 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.

About 80 res­i­dents in the South Korean town where the shell fell, Yeon­cheon, were evac­u­ated to un­der­ground bunkers, and author­i­ties urged other res­i­dents to evac­u­ate, a Yeon­cheon of­fi­cial said, re­quest­ing anonymity be­cause he wasn’t au­tho­rized to speak to the media.

Evac­u­a­tion

In the nearby bor­der city of Paju, res­i­dents were asked to stay home. On Ganghwa Is­land, res­i­dents in vil­lages near a site where South Korea op­er­ates one of its loud­speak­ers were also evacu- ated, ac­cord­ing to is­land of­fi­cials.

South Korea’s Yon­hap news agency re­ported that a to­tal of about 2,000 res­i­dents along the bor­der were evac­u­ated.

Py­ongyang has claimed that Seoul fab­ri­cated its ev­i­dence on the land mines and de­manded video proof.

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.

Be­fore that, the Koreas tan­gled in a deadly ar­tillery ex­change in 2010, when North Korean ar­tillery strikes on a South Korean bor­der is­land killed four South Kore­ans. Ear­lier in 2010, an al­leged North Korean tor­pedo at­tack killed 46 South Korean sailors.

North Korea’s army said re­cently in a state­ment that the South Korean pro­pa­ganda broad­casts were a dec­la­ra­tion of war and that if they were not im­me­di­ately stopped “an all-out mil­i­tary ac­tion of jus­tice” would en­sue.

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.

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.

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