North Korea's rocket provocation Thursday sharply raised cross-border tensions and further dimmed the prospects of bilateral reconciliation, posing a tougher challenge to Seoul's hitherto unfruitful efforts to build trust with the communist regime.
Pyongyang's firing of a rocket toward Seoul's propaganda loudspeakers appeared intended to stop the South Korean military from expanding its anti-Pyongyang broadcasts along the tense border, which could potentially awaken North Koreans to the dictatorial nature of the regime, analysts said.
They also pointed out that the recent spate of provocations by the North underscored its lack of will to mend fences with the South. The rocket attack came as tensions remained high due to the Aug. 4 land mine attack that injured two South Korean troops.
"Pyongyang appears to have mistakenly thought that if it did not take retaliatory steps toward the South stepping up anti-Pyongyang propaganda efforts, the efforts would further be expanded," said Ahn Chan-il, the head of the World North Korea Research Center.
"The rocket provocation would rather be a chance for Seoul to intensify its propaganda activities to let the voices of freedom to North Korean soldiers and civilians living near the border."
The rocket attack came two days after Seoul sent a letter to the UN Security Council to express its regret over the North's land mine attack, and to urge the communist regime to stop additional provocations, a senior Seoul official said Thursday.
The letter, written under the name of Seoul's Ambassador to the UN Oh Joon, was delivered to the UNSC chairman Tuesday, New York time. This month, Nigeria undertakes the rotating UNSC chairmanship.
In the letter, Seoul explained the result of its investigation into the land mine detonation in the Demilitarized Zone, calling the UNSC's attention to the provocation, which it calls a "threat to peace on the Korean Peninsula and a violation of the Armistice Agreement."
"Upon our request, the letter has been read by the member states of the UNSC. The letter is expected to be adopted as an official UNSC document today or tomorrow, and posted on the UNSC-related website as well," the official told reporters.
The land mine incident sharply increased inter-Korean tensions, leading the two Koreas to begin intensive propaganda campaigns against each other through loudspeakers near the heavily fortified border.
Seoul's investigators concluded that the North placed three wooden-box land mines intentionally near the Military Demarcation Line within the DMZ separating the two Koreas. Seoul warned that Pyongyang would "pay dearly" for the incident, while the North denies its responsibility.
The letter is not specifically intended to urge the UNSC to issue a statement against the provocation. But it would serve as a part in an accumulation of evidence of Pyongyang's continued provocations that threaten the peninsular peace and stability, the official noted.
"We sent the letter believing that, should the North engage in another provocative act, this letter would show to the international community the repetitive nature of North Korean provocations," he said. "As the act of sending the letter is quite rare, this shows that we took the case very seriously."
Meanwhile, 38 North, run by the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said that recent satellite imagery indicates that Pyongyang has conducted an engine test at a satellite launch station on its west coast.
This analysis came amid growing speculation that the reclusive state might engage in a provocative act around Oct. 10, the 70th anniversary of the foundation of its ruling Workers' Party.
The research website also said that the North has been installing two new, larger, storage buildings for fuel and an oxidizer at the rocket launch site. But it pointed out that recent satellite imagery still shows "no signs of launch preparations."
"When complete, they will provide more than double the storage capacity of the existing structures, suggesting that the North Koreans are developing a capability to test larger, more capable engines," the website said.
Local media reports said that the North was spotted preparing for short-range missile launches at its launch sites on its east and west coasts. The missiles could be KN-02 ground-to-ground missiles with a range of up to 160 kilometers or Scud missiles with a range of up to 1,000 kilometers.
The North has launched short-range missiles in a show of force before or after the South Korea-US military drills, which it has denounced as a "rehearsal for a nuclear war of invasion" against it.