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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
Reported coastal artillery drills by North Korea over the weekend represent a violation of an inter-Korean military agreement signed last year, South Korea’s government said Monday, urging Pyongyang to comply with the terms of that accord and immediately halt provocative military action.
In comments that follow DPRK state media reports earlier in the day that a coastal artillery company of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) had conducted live-fire drills near the inter-Korean maritime border on Changrin Island, Seoul’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) said it “expressed regret” at the move.
“The coastal gunnery exercise that the North made mention of violates the military agreement of September 19, which the South and North Korean military authorities have hitherto faithfully implemented after agreeing on it last September,” ministry spokesperson Choi Hyun-soo told a regular briefing.
“We urge the North to halt all military actions that… heighten military tensions along the inter-Korean border areas and to thoroughly comply with the military agreement of September 19 to prevent a recurrence.”
Monday’s comments represent the first time since the signing of the military agreement in Pyongyang last September that South Korean military officials have accused the North of breaching the accord.
While Pyongyang has in recent months repeatedly conducted tests of new weapons systems, including of a ballistic missile and a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), Seoul has previously only said that such actions “violate the spirit of the inter-Korean military agreement.”
North Korean media, in contrast, has frequently accused the South of violating the deal, pointing to recent joint drills with the U.S. and its acquisition of high-tech weapons including F-35A stealth fighters as notable breaches.
Under the terms of that agreement, the two Koreas committed to ending military exercises in the air, land, and sea, aimed at the other along the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) from November 1 2018.
Both sides also specifically agreed to end “all live-fire and maritime maneuver exercises within the zone north of Deokjeok-do and south of Cho-do” on the western coast of the peninsula. Changrin Island, where the weekend’s exercise took place, is located south of Cho-do.
Under the terms of last year’s agreement, too, the two Koreas must “install covers on the barrels of coastal artilleries and ship guns and close all gunports” within that zone.
November 2018 saw that the South Korean military confirm that the two Koreas had formally begun a halt to land, air, and sea military exercises in the designated areas.
The South Korean defense ministry on Monday said it will unveil countermeasures in the near-future.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un previously inspected military camps in the border areas, including visiting frontline military posts in May, when he was reported to have overseen a strike drill.
The South Korean Ministry of Unification (MOU) on Monday, however, confirmed that this weekend’s visit was his first to the “the Changrin Islet defense detachment on the western front” since coming to power.
North Korean state media’s report on the coastal artillery drills also came at a particularly provocative time, just two days after the ninth anniversary of the DPRK’s bombardment of Yeonpyeong island, in November 2010, which resulted in the deaths of two civilians and two South Korean soldiers.
During the weekend’s on-site inspection, Kim ordered the KPA to “make thorough preparations so that any unit can be mobilized for carrying out a combat mission at any time.”
In contrast with Monday’s North Korean report, the South Korean military has reportedly stopped maritime training near the border, local newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported last month, citing lawmaker Baek Seung-joo as having said.
According to Baek, the North-West Islands Defense Command (NWIDC) of the Republic of Korea Marine Corps (ROKMC) has not staged maritime firing exercises in the islands since August last year, instead conducting live-fire drills in Paju.
The NWIDC was established in June 2011 with the goal of countering North Korean threats to the five islands of Baengnyeong-do, Daecheong-do, Socheong-do, Yeonpyeong-do and U-do.
Monday’s report on Kim’s military-related activity is the third of its kind this month, with DPRK media having earlier this month reported on Kim’s guidance of training exercises by sharpshooters from the Air and Anti-Aircraft Force of the KPA as well as a combat flight contest.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: KCNA