North Korea issued an ultimatum to Seoul to halt anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts by Saturday afternoon or face military action, Joinfo.com reports with
reference to Reuters.
South Korean Vice Defence 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 Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), 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 its own artillery barrage. Both sides said there were no casualties or damage in their territory.
The North’s shelling came after it had demanded last weekend that South Korea end the broadcasts or face military action – a relatively rare case of it following up on its frequent threats against the South.
Its 48-hour ultimatum to halt the broadcasts, delivered in a letter to the South Korean Defence Ministry via a joint military communications channel, was also uncharacteristically specific. The deadline is around 5 p.m. (0400 EDT) on Saturday in Seoul.
Baek told parliament the broadcasts would continue unless the North accepted responsibility and apologized for recent landmine explosions that wounded two South Korean soldiers along the DMZ. Pyongyang has denied it was responsible.
“There is a high possibility that North Korea will attack loudspeaker facilities,” Baek said.
In the North, Kim would put his troops on a “fully armed state of war” starting from 5 p.m. and had declared a “quasi-state of war” in frontline areas, Pyongyang’s official KCNA news agency reported.
There were indications the North was preparing to fire short-range missiles, the South’s Yonhap news agency said, citing an unnamed government source. The North often fires rockets into the sea during annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises, which are currently under way.
Pyongyang’s declaration of a semi-state of war was its first use of such terminology since the North shelled a South Korean island in 2010, Yonhap said. Two South Korean marines and two civilians were killed in that incident, which followed another ultimatum delivered by the North.
The precise 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 font of generalized threats, but putting a time stamp on it is a little bit different. It puts both Seoul and Pyongyang’s necks on the chopping board. Someone has to blink here,” he said.
Seoul began blasting anti-North Korean propaganda from loudspeakers on the border on Aug. 10, resuming a tactic that both sides had stopped in 2004, after the landmine explosions.
North Korea on Monday began conducting its own broadcasts.
Daniel Pinkston of the International Crisis Group think tank said the large presence of U.S. troops in the South for the military exercises could reduce the risk of escalation.
“This is a bad time to pick a fight with the South while it has all these resources there,” he said.