Gunfire breaks out on North Korean border after Kim Jong-un’s troops cross WW3 flashpoint frontier in major escalation

SOUTH Korean troops fired warning shots after North Korean soldiers briefly crossed the border this week, Seoul’s military said Tuesday.

The rivals have been embroiled in Cold War-style campaigns like trash-filled balloon launches and propaganda broadcasts.

AFPTest-firing of 600mm super-large rocket artillery at an unconfirmed location in North Korea[/caption]

APNorth Korean soldiers stand near their military guard post as a North Korean flag flutters in the wind, seen from Paju, South Korea[/caption]

APBarricades are placed near the Unification Bridge, which leads to the Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone in Paju, South Korea on Tuesday[/caption]

ReutersNorth Korean special forces soldiers march and shout slogans during a military parade[/caption]

Bloodshed and violent confrontations have occasionally occurred at the Koreas’ heavily fortified border, called the Demilitarized Zone.

While Sunday’s incident happened amid simmering tensions between the two Koreas, observers say it won’t likely develop into another source of animosity.

South Korea says its northern rival didn’t deliberately commit the border intrusion and North Korea also didn’t return fire.

At 12.30 pm on Sunday, some North Korean soldiers engaged in unspecified work on the northern side of the border crossed the military demarcation line that bisects the two countries, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.

Some were said to be armed and others carried construction tools, but they immediately returned to their territory after South Korea’s military fired warning shots and issued warning broadcasts.

Seoul officials added North Korea had not conducted any other suspicious activities.

“Some North Korean soldiers working within the DMZ on the central front briefly crossed the Military Demarcation Line (MDL),” the JCS said in a statement, referring to the line of control between the two Koreas.

“After our military issued warning broadcasts and warning shots, they retreated northward.”

South Korea’s military also assessed that the North Korean soldiers didn’t appear to have intentionally crossed the border as the site is a wooded area and MDL signs there weren’t clearly visible, JCS spokesperson Lee Sung Joon told reporters.

Lee added: “We believe that they did not intend to invade, considering that they immediately moved northward after the warning broadcasts and warning shots.”

South Korean media reports said that about 20-30 North Korean soldiers had entered South Korean territory about 165 feet after they likely lost their way.

The reports said most of the North Korean soldiers were carrying pickaxes and other construction tools.

The 155-mile-long, 2.5-mile-wide DMZ is the world’s most heavily armed border.

An estimated 2 million mines are peppered inside and near the border, which is also guarded by barbed wire fences, tank traps and combat troops on both sides.

It is a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

On Sunday, South Korea resumed anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts from its border loudspeakers in response to the Norths recent launches of balloons carrying manure and rubbish across the border.

North Korea could be re-installing its own loudspeakers along the border, Seoul’s military said Monday, a tactic it had used since the 1960s but suspended in 2018.

Seoul’s spy agency told AFP on Tuesday it had also detected signs that Pyongyang was demolishing sections of the inter-Korean railway.

The incursion of the North Korean soldiers could be a “small provocation” to test the waters ahead of a bigger move, Ahn Chan-il, a defector-turned-researcher who runs the World Institute for North Korea Studies, told AFP.

“It can also be seen as part of (chief regime spokeswoman and sister of Kim Jong Un) Kim Yo Jong’s preparation for what she described as a ‘new countermeasures’,” he added.

Pyongyang has previously threatened artillery strikes against the loudspeaker units.

South Korea’s loudspeaker broadcast on Sunday included news segments about Seoul’s decision to suspend the 2018 military agreement along with a report on the global sales performance of Samsung Electronics smartphones, according to the Yonhap news agency.

It comes after Pyongyang sent a wave of 260 “filthy” faeces-filled balloons to South Korea in a strange intimidation move.

North Korea said its balloon campaign was in response to South Korean activists’ launches of their own balloons to drop propaganda leaflets critical of leader Kim Jong Un’s authoritarian rule.

Seoul also allegedly sent USB sticks with K-pop songs, South Korean drama shows, and other items across the border.

North Korea is extremely sensitive to any outside criticism of its political system as most of its 26 million people have no official access to foreign news.

Apart from anti-Kim Jong Un leaflets, North Korea is also extremely sensitive about its people gaining access to South Korea’s flourishing popular culture.

According to a United Nations report, Pyongyang enacted a law in 2020 to punish anyone possessing or distributing a large amount of South Korean media content with life imprisonment or even the death penalty.

Experts have warned that the decision to jettison the 2018 deal and restart loudspeaker broadcasts could have serious implications, as previous tit-for-tat propaganda actions have had real-world consequences for inter-Korean relations.

In 2020, Pyongyang, blaming anti-North leaflets, unilaterally cut off all official military and political communication links with the South, and blew up an inter-Korean liaison office on its side of the border.

On Sunday night, Kim’s sister and senior official, Kim Yo Jong, warned of a new response if South Korea continued its loudspeaker broadcasts and refused to stop civilian leafleting campaigns.

The tit-for-tat over speakers and balloons both Cold War-style psychological warfare have deepened tensions between the Koreas as talks over the North’s nuclear ambitions have remained stalled for years.

AFPNorth Korean leader Kim Jong Un gesturing to personnel while inspecting a training competition between the combined forces of the Korean People’s Army tank crews[/caption]

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