South Korea fires warning shots at North Korean soldiers

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South Korea fires warning shots after North Korea soldiers cross border

/ 10:39 AM June 11, 2024

South Korea fires warning shots after North Korea soldiers cross border

North Korean soldiers look towards the South side while US ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield visits the south side of the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the two Koreas on April 16, 2024. (Photo by JUNG YEON-JE / POOL / Agence France-Presse)

SEOUL — Seoul’s military said Tuesday it had fired warning shots after North Korean soldiers briefly crossed the border this week, with tensions high over Pyongyang’s trash-carrying balloons and Seoul’s loudspeaker propaganda campaigns.

“Some North Korean soldiers working within the DMZ on the central front briefly crossed the Military Demarcation Line,” Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a statement, referring to the line of control in the heavily fortified border between the two Koreas.

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“After our military issued warning broadcasts and warning shots, they retreated northward,” it said, adding the incident happened on June 9.

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“Apart from the immediate retreat of the North Korean soldiers following our warning shots, there were no unusual movements observed,” the JCS also said, adding the military was closely monitoring troops near the border.

Tensions between the two Koreas – which remain technically at war since the 1950-1953 conflict ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty – are at one of their lowest points in years.

READ: Seoul to fully suspend inter-Korean military deal over balloons

In recent weeks, North Korea has sent hundreds of balloons laden with trash like cigarette butts and toilet paper southward, in what it calls retaliation for balloons carrying anti-Pyongyang propaganda sent north by activists.

The South Korean government this month fully suspended a 2018 tension-reducing military deal and restarted loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts along the border in response to the trash balloons, infuriating the North, which warned Seoul was creating “a new crisis.”

South Korea’s military said Monday it had detected signs the North was installing its own loudspeakers.

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North Korea had used loudspeakers along the border since the 1960s, typically broadcasting praise of the Kim family, but suspended their use in 2018 as ties warmed.

Experts have warned that the decision to jettison the 2018 deal and restart loudspeaker broadcasts could have serious implications.

Previous propaganda tit-for-tat actions have had real-world consequences for inter-Korean relations.

READ: North Korea sends more balloons, Kim’s sister warns of ‘new counteraction’

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.

The North has also previously threatened artillery strikes against the loudspeaker units.

In 2018, during a period of improved inter-Korean relations, the leaders of the two Koreas agreed to “completely cease all hostile acts”, including stopping the leaflets.

The South Korean parliament passed a law in 2020 criminalizing sending leaflets to the North, but activists did not stop, and the law was struck down by the Constitutional Court last year as an undue limitation on free speech.

The 2018 pact was a hallmark achievement of former president Moon Jae-in, who met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un repeatedly in a bid to improve ties.

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Abandoning the deal also enables South Korea to resume live-fire drills along the border.

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