North Korea’s army on Wednesday said it would soon redeploy soldiers to the previously-demilitarized Kaesong Industrial Zone and the Mount Kumgang areas, a move which would effectively nullify a 2018 inter-Korean military agreement amid mounting tensions on the peninsula.
In a statement carried on the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) just hours after the demolishing of an inter-Korean liaison office in the border city of Kaesong, the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) said the retaliatory actions were in response to Seoul’s failure to stop activists sending anti-regime leaflets into its territory.
“Civil police posts that had been withdrawn from the Demilitarized Zone under the north-south agreement in the military field will be set up again to strengthen the guard over the front line,” the statement said.
“The artillery units deployed on the whole front line including the southwest naval front will reinforce those on combat duty, upgrade the level of the front guard duty to top class combat duty system throughout the front line and will resume all kinds of regular military exercises in the areas close to the boundary,” he said.
The North Korean military first announced plans to advance troops into previously-demilitarized areas on Tuesday, with the KPA saying it had “accepted” an order from the country’s ruling party that would see it return troops to both ground and sea frontline positions.
Those warnings, should they be put into action, would represent an effective end to the 2018 military agreement, signed by the two Koreas in September that year during a landmark summit in Pyongyang.
That agreement, once described by a top South Korean security official as a de facto “nonaggression pact,” aimed to reduce the chance of an inter-Korean active conflict by establishing a true demilitarized buffer zone between the two.
The army also said Wednesday it would push ahead with plans to assist North Korean civilians in what appears to be a tit-for-tat campaign against activists sending leaflets into the North, it added.
“Areas (districts) favorable for scattering leaflets against the south will open on the whole front line and our people’s drive for scattering leaflets will be guaranteed militarily and thorough-going security measures will be taken,” the statement read.
Tensions have soared between the two Koreas in recent days, with North Korea’s decision Tuesday to destroy the liaison office Kaesong marking just the latest escalation in a campaign which has seen Pyongyang cut communication lines between the two and threaten further military action against the South. In a statement, North Korea said the demolition was in accordance with the “mindset of the enraged people” in the face of the balloon launches and Seoul’s failure to stop them.
A growing domestic propaganda campaign has sought to underline the broad public support for Pyongyang’s actions, with ruling party daily the Rodong Sinmun on Monday carrying a number of statements purportedly by enraged citizens keen to mete out revenge on the Southern “enemies.”
Wednesday’s move by the North to redeploy troops into demilitarized areas, one expert said, remained a largely symbolic one, however.
“Although re-stationing military within Mt. Kumgang and the KIC won’t of course be welcome, it also doesn’t present an immediate problem for South Korea,” Chris Green, a lecturer at the University of Leiden and a contributing analyst to NK News’s sister site NK Pro, said.
“These two projects have been shuttered for 12 and four years respectively, and there are no South Korean citizens at either location,” he noted. “In a sense, these steps demonstrate the weakness of North Korea’s position.”
North Korea on Wednesday also revealed that, in a recent bid to cool rising tensions, South Korea had offered to send Presidential special envoys Chung Eui-yong and Suh Hoon to Pyongyang.
Top official Kim Yo Jong, the KCNA reported, had told Seoul that they would “flatly reject” such a proposal, especially in light of the North’s effective closure of its borders since the beginning of the year.
“We can guess how much the south side reacts to the present situation and what its anticipation of the consequences could be, but we are extremely displeased to get such an absurd judgment and reckless proposal,” the report said.
“The solution to the present crisis between the north and the south caused by the incompetence and irresponsibility of the south Korean authorities is impossible and it can be terminated only when proper price is paid.”