Seoul goes on the offensive after N Korea mine blast in DMZ

Seoul goes on the offensive after N Korea mine blast in DMZ
North Korean soldiers patrol at the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarised zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas, South Korea, August 11, 2015.
PHOTO: Reuters

Defence Minister Han Min-koo on Tuesday pledged to step up efforts to seize the upper hand in the Demilitarized Zone and take other punitive steps against North Korea over its perceived breach of borders and mine-planting activities.

His remarks came one day after the Joint Chiefs of Staff announced that North Korean troops had recently crossed the border and planted the three land mines that inflicted serious injuries on two South Korean soldiers last week.

In retaliation, the South Korean military restarted loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts after more than 11 years, on an irregular basis in two frontline midwest regions and plans to gradually expand them.

It issued a full alert on Tuesday and is deploying additional firearms and reconnaissance assets such as CCTV-equipped drones in the areas to better monitor the movement across the Military Demarcation Line and counter any potential attacks.

"We will carry out an operation to seize the initiative in the DMZ.

Our military will remain unfazed by the incident," Han told reporters after a meeting with ruling Saenuri Party lawmakers, without elaborating.

"We've restarted the anti-North Korea psychological warfare broadcasts, and built on that we will look into further steps."

In another development, the military is reportedly seeking to take a more proactive posture during search and scouting missions within the DMZ and make their operations more unpredictable by changing times and locations.

Under its existing manual, if a North Korean soldier violates the MDL, South Korean troops are required to release verbal warnings and then warning shots before firing an aimed shot.

But now they will be allowed to shoot any border-crossing enemy right away. In addition, the lead group will wear galoshes and bring detection devices to prevent future mine casualties.

The mine blast occurred Aug. 4 in Paju, Gyeonggi Province. The explosion nearly severed the right ankle of 23-year-old Army staff sergeant surnamed Kim and a larger part of both legs of 21-year-old Ha.

After a two-day joint probe through Aug. 7 with the United Nations Command, the JCS spotted North Korea as the culprit, citing steel springs, firing pins and other perceived debris of the detonated devices retrieved from the scene which it found to corroborate with the wooden-box mines used by its military.

The Koreas halted propaganda loudspeaker broadcasts along their tense border in 2004 in line with a cross-border agreement.

The equipment was reinstalled at 11 spots after the North's 2010 sinking of the South's corvette Cheonan, which prompted Pyongyang to threaten to shoot it down, but it has not been used since.

After initially keeping mum, Cheong Wa Dae urged Pyongyang to apologise for the incident and punish those responsible, calling it a "clear provocation" and a "direct violation" of the armistice agreement and inter-Korean nonaggression pact.

The presidential office convened a meeting of the National Security Council last Saturday to be briefed on the issue by Han and explore Seoul's response.

"This case is a clear provocation in which the North Korean troops illegally intruded upon the MDL and intentionally implanted wooden-box mines," presidential spokesman Min Kyung-wook said at a news briefing early Saturday.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also voiced concerns over the escalating tension on the peninsula, calling on the communist state to stop its provocations and come forward for talks. The UN Command on Monday proposed general-level dialogue with its military.

North Korea should "fully adhere to the obligations under the armistice agreement and engage in dialogue on this incident," Ban said in a statement.


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