N Korea's hostilities appear designed to gain leverage

N Korea's hostilities appear designed to gain leverage
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

KOREA - The recent series of provocative moves by North Korea appear to be aimed at raising pressure on the South to settle bilateral security issues including the issue of anti-Pyongyang leaflets in its own favour, analysts said Monday.

From violating the Northern Limit Line, a de facto sea border, to shooting at balloons filled with anti-North Korea leaflets and launched by South Korean civic groups, the North's aggressive military responses in recent weeks have sharply raised tensions on the peninsula.

"What is worrisome is that the North is pushing for (the resolution of) its own security agenda in a very aggressive manner, while calling for an end to the South-US military drills and reducing tensions in its own terms," said Chang Yong-seok, an analyst at the Institute of Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University.

"Based on its pride and belief that with nuclear arms and missiles it is militarily superior to the South, the North appears to be dangerously seeking to take the lead in inter-Korean relations to its own benefit," he added, warning that the North's saber-rattling could escalate into a low-intensity conflict.

On Oct. 7, the North violated the NLL in the West Sea, leading to an exchange of fire between the two navies. Three days later, the two Koreas traded fire again near the inter-Korean land border after the North fired shots at balloons carrying anti-North Korea leaflets.

Further escalating tensions, North Korean troops approached the Military Demarcation Line, a line separating the two Koreas within the Demilitarized Zone, last Saturday and Sunday, despite warning shots from the South Korean side.

The provocative moves came as the South is hoping to hold a second round of high-level talks with the North. The South proposed holding the talks, which have been stalled since February due to strained relations, in the inter-Korean truce village of Panmunjeom on Oct. 30, but the North has yet to respond.

Some observers assumed that the North's recent actions might be intended to show its displeasure over Seoul's stepped-up pressure on it to improve its human rights record and give up nuclear arms. President Park Geun-hye has repeatedly raised the two issues during overseas trips including last week at the Asia-Europe Meeting in Italy.

Seoul's Defence Ministry said that North Korean troops' recent approaches to the MDL might be part of routine checks of the border areas or could be a premeditated move to raise tensions to aggressively push for the resolution of pending security issues.

"What is different from the past North Korean responses to our warning shots is that in the past, the North retreated when we fired warning shots near the MDL, but recently, the North began firing back," Defence Ministry spokesperson Kim Min-seok told reporters during a regular press briefing.

"This could be part of the North's preparations to aggressively respond when the South launches counterstrikes."

Kim urged the North to stop raising tensions and to refrain from any additional "reckless" provocations, stressing that those moves contravened the Armistice Agreement.

Amid rising tensions, Seoul has expressed its desire for the resumption of high-level talks. On Sunday, the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae said that the talks would be held as agreed by the two sides.

Observers say that for the Park administration, this year is crucial to push for a turnaround to break the inter-Korean impasse as its policy drive could lose traction in the latter part of Park's five-year term, which began in February 2013.

sshluck@heraldcorp.com

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