South Korea accuses North Korea of conducting artillery drills at disputed sea border, plans to follow suit

Image Source : AP North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspecting a factory for transport erector launchers with his daughter.

South Korea has accused North Korea of firing artillery rounds near its disputed sea border on Friday in violation of a fragile 2018 agreement and is planning to retaliate with similar drills, according to officials. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said that North Korea fired 200 rounds in the waters north of the disputed sea boundary.

Seoul called the North Korean drills a “provocation”, although the former did not suffer any damage. The Joint Chief of Staff said that South Korea would take a corresponding step, but did not elaborate. “This is an act of provocation that escalates tension and threatens peace on the Korean peninsula,” a spokesman for the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

The North Korean artillery shells all landed on the northern side of the disputed Northern Limit Line (NLL) maritime border, said spokesperson Lee Sung-joon, adding that the South Korean military has been monitoring Pyongyang’s moves along its shores. The drills are the first to occur in over a year and is expected to deepen the already serious animosity between the two neighbouring countries.

Meanwhile, the residents of South Korea’s front-line island of Yeonpyeong said the South Korean military has asked them to evacuate because it plans to launch maritime firing drills later on Friday. An official on Yeonpyeong Island said that the evacuation was ordered for residents to move into shelters on the island at the request of the South Korean military.

The inter-Korean Sea border

The Koreas’ sea boundary has been the site of several bloody inter-Korean sea battles since 1999. In November 2010, North Korean artillery fired scores of rounds at Yeonpyeong island, killing four people, including two civilians, in one of the heaviest attacks on its neighbour since the Korean War ended in 1953.

North Korea said at the time it was provoked into the attack by South Korean live-fire drills that dropped shells into its territorial waters. The border was unofficially drawn at the end of the Korean War, and Pyongyang did not dispute it until the 1970s, when it started arguing for a border further to the south.

The 2018 agreement requires the two Koreas to halt live-fire exercises and aerial surveillance in no-fly and buffer zones that they established along their border. However, the deal is in danger of collapsing after the two Koreas began bickering since the North’s first military spy satellite launch in November.

South Korea accused North Korea of restoring front-line guard posts that it had dismantled under the 2018 deal, after South Korea resumed front-line aerial surveillance in protest of the North’s satellite launch. North Korea has increasingly warned in recent days that the situation on the Korean peninsula is spiralling towards war because of dangerous moves by the US and South Korean militaries.

Tensions between North and South Korea

As recently as Monday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said that his military should “thoroughly annihilate” the United States and South Korea if provoked, after he promised to boost national defence, including by launching three more spy satellites and building nuclear weapons in 2024, as part of “overwhelming” war readiness to cope with US-led confrontational moves.

According to the observers, Kim would finally hope to use his boosted nuclear capability to wrest greater outside concessions if there is a resumption of diplomacy. Experts say that Kim is likely to continue to escalate his warlike rhetoric and weapons tests again if former US President Donald Trump wins the presidential elections in November.

Kim stressed that “our army should deal a deadly blow to thoroughly annihilate them by mobilizing all the toughest means and potentialities without moment’s hesitation” if they opt for military confrontation and provocations against North Korea, according to the state-led Korean Central News Agency. He cited the expansion of US-South Korean military drills involving long-range bombers and a nuclear-armed submarine, which Pyongyang views as a rehearsal for invasion.

Turning his focus on South Korea, Kim called the country “a hemiplegic malformation and colonial subordinate state” whose society is “tainted by Yankee culture”. He further remarked that his military must use all available means including nuclear weapons to “suppress the whole territory of South Korea” in the event of a conflict.

Kim earlier declared that North Korea will no longer seek reconciliation and reunification with the South, saying that the inter-Korean ties have become “a relationship between two hostile countries and two belligerents at war”, CNN reported citing the KCNA.

“I believe that it is a mistake that we must no longer make to deal with the people who declare us as ‘the main enemy’ and seek only opportunities for ‘[our] regime collapse’ and ‘unification by absorption’ by collaborating for reconciliation and unification,” the North Korean leader added. The two countries have been separated since the end of the Korean War in 1953 which ended with an armistice.

The US and South Korean governments have repeatedly warned that any attempt by North Korea to use nuclear weapons would result in the end of the Kim Jong Un government. North Korea has argued that it has been forced to develop nuclear weapons in the face of a possible invasion by the US and South Korea. 

(with inputs from agencies)

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