Sunday 22 July 2018

Tensions raised in Korea as Kim puts army on war footing

Barney Henderson in New York

North Korea's Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-Un, has ordered front-line troops onto a war-footing as tensions on the border with South Korea soared following an exchange of artillery fire.

South Korea fired dozens of artillery rounds towards North Korea during the day after the North shelled across the border to protest against anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts by Seoul - the first exchange of fire in 10 months.

In the early hours of yesterday morning, North Korea's Supreme Leader ordered his troops to be in a "wartime state".

"Kim Jong-Un (pictured) issued an order of the supreme commander of the Korean People's Army (KPA) that the frontline large combined units of the KPA should enter a wartime state to be fully battle ready to launch surprise operations," North Korea's official KCNA news agency reported.

The move came during an emergency late night meeting of the powerful Central Military Commission of which Mr Kim is the chairman.

North Korea earlier issued an ultimatum after the exchange of fire, sent via military hotline, that gave the South 48 hours to dismantle loudspeakers blasting propaganda messages across the border, or face further military action.

US army soldiers prepare for a military exercise at a training field near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Pocheon, South Korea, yesterday. Photo: Reuters
US army soldiers prepare for a military exercise at a training field near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Pocheon, South Korea, yesterday. Photo: Reuters

The South's defence ministry dismissed the threat and said the broadcasts would continue.

The South's defence ministry said the nuclear-armed North initially fired a single artillery round over the border shortly before 4pm local time.

Minutes later it fired several more in the rough direction of one of the South's loudspeaker units, but the shells fell short on the South's side of the demilitarised zone (DMZ) - a 4km-wide buffer area straddling the actual frontier line.

The South Korean military retaliated by firing "dozens of rounds of 155mm shells" which the ministry said were also aimed to land in the North's section of the DMZ.

As a preventive measure, local South Korean residents in Yeoncheon county, some 60km north of Seoul, were ordered to evacuate their homes for nearby shelters.

Yesterday video footage clearly showed US troops mobilising for military exercises on North-South Korea border.

The International Crisis Group said earlier yesterday there was a significant number of US troops in the region.

South Korea pledged yesterday morning to take action in a pre-emptive manner if needed to stabilise markets in the wake of the heightened tensions.

Pyongyang on Thursday night asked the United Nations Security Council to hold an urgent meeting to discuss the military exercises.

"Should the Security Council again ignore the DPRK's just request to discuss the US joint military exercise, it will expose of itself (sic) that it is giving up its primary mission of maintaining the international peace and security and becoming a political tool of an individual power," wrote Ja Song-nam, the North Korean ambassador.

Direct exchanges of fire across the inter-Korean land border are extremely rare, mainly, analysts say, because both sides recognise the risk for a sudden and potentially disastrous escalation between two countries that technically remain at war.

UN spokesman Eri Kaneko said: "We are closely following the developments with serious concern, and we will revert as the situation evolves."

(© Daily Telegraph London)

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