North Korea raised the stakes Friday by warning of “surprise operations” along its frontline if South Korea does not stop psychological warfare broadcasts by 5 p.m. on Saturday.
The ultimatum, also sent directly to South Korea’s military via a West Sea communications line on Thursday afternoon, also said that “frontline large combined units of the KPA” would be put into a state of “semi-war” as of 5 p.m. on Friday.
“Unless (South Korea) stops psychological broadcasting towards the north and dismantle(s) all means for psychological warfare within 48 hours … the KPA (will) launch a strong military action,” a state media description of the North’s ultimatum said, referring to the Korean People’s Army.
The threat, which the Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) said had been discussed by Kim Jong Un at a Thursday emergency meeting of the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), added that forces were already being prepared to fire on propaganda speakers.
“Commanders were appointed and dispatched to the relevant sectors of the front to command military actions in the areas to destroy means for psychological warfare unless the enemies stop the psychological broadcasting within 48 hours,” the report said.
The worsening rhetoric – amid intelligence reports in South Korean media about KPA artillery units being moved towards the border – comes less than a day after North Korean forces fired upon South Korean propaganda speakers.
The very public nature of the ultimatum, which includes precise instructions for South Korea to dial down the tension, now puts Seoul in a difficult spot, one observer said.
“We don’t have the minutes from last night’s CMC meeting, but the question is: Did they discuss and plan and point whereby the KPA would back down? Or do they plan to carry out the threat of punishment?” said Daniel Pinkston, North East Asia deputy project director of the International Crisis Group.
“If the former, they can back down without serious domestic audience costs because the regime is not accountable to the public. If the latter, this sets up a commitment trap for the leadership because not carrying out the threat can be perceived as weakness internally by the coalition – especially the KPA and the internal security service,” Pinkston said.
Another observer said reports that North Korea was moving long-range artillery towards the border suggested a “show of force … (to) increase tensions and back up the North’s threat to take further “military action” if the South does not cease its broadcasts within 48 hours.”
“Actual preparations for war would almost surely include the mobilization of large armored and mechanized units of the KPA, which have not been reported,” said John Grisafi, director of intelligence for NK News. “The movement of long-range artillery, however, should still be considered a potential threat as this puts more such weapons within range of Seoul and closer to other targets in general.”
Notably, the timing of the threats – coinciding with joint U.S.-Ulchi Freedom military drills – gave reason for Pinkston to also believe there should not be pause for complacency at this time.
“The presence of (U.S. and UN Command) troops restrains the ROK, and the smart strategists in Pyongyang almost certainly know this,” he said.
As a result, allies of the South “do not want to get dragged into a war over a few artillery rounds flying across the DMZ,” Pinkson said, something that now means “the possibility of miscalculation and inadvertent escalation is much higher than it was a few days ago.”
Tensions have been worsening between the two Koreas since a landmine went off on the South Korean side of the DMZ, maiming two soldiers.
Seoul blamed North Korea for the incident, though Pyongyang has vociferously denied any involvement.
Main picture: KCNA
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