By Arab News
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un put his front-line troops on a war footing on Friday to back up an ultimatum for South Korea to halt high-decibel propaganda broadcasts across the border.
A North Korean military official says a meeting of senior party and defense officials led by Jong Un met Thursday night and “reviewed and approved the final attack operation.”
The move came as military tensions on the divided Korean peninsula soared following a rare exchange of artillery fire on Thursday that put the South Korean army on maximum alert.
South Korea’s military on Thursday fired dozens of artillery rounds across the border in response to what Seoul said were North Korean artillery strikes meant to back up a threat to attack loudspeakers broadcasting anti-Pyongyang propaganda.
Technically, the two Koreas have been at war for the past 65 years, as the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a ceasefire that was never ratified by a formal peace treaty.
Kim has given similarly bellicose orders in the past, most recently in 2013 when he declared “a state of war” with the South, although no clashes resulted.
Over the decades, South Koreans have become accustomed to the North’s provocative and belligerent behaviour, and there was no sense of public panic in Seoul despite the dire threats.
Kim chaired an emergency meeting late Thursday of the North’s powerful Central Military Commission (CMC) which endorsed the ultimatum for the South to switch off its propaganda unit loudspeakers by Saturday afternoon or face military action.
South Korea’s Defense Ministry insisted the loudspeakers would keep operating.
According to the official KCNA news agency, Kim ordered frontline, combined units of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) to “enter a wartime state” from Friday 5:00 p.m. (0830 GMT).
The troops should be “fully battle ready to launch surprise operations” while the entire frontline should be placed in a “semi-war state,” KCNA quoted him as saying.
In response, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff urged the KPA to refrain from any “reckless acts.”
South Korean television broadcast images of President Park Geun-Hye wearing army fatigues as she addressed a meeting of top military commanders outside Seoul.
“Any provocations by North Korea will not be tolerated,” Park told the gathering.
The United States urged Pyongyang to avoid any further escalation, with the Pentagon stressing it remained firmly committed to defending ally South Korea.
Direct exchanges of fire across the inter-Korean land border are extremely rare, mainly, analysts say, because both sides recognise the risk of a sudden and potentially disastrous escalation.
But Yoo Ho-Yeol, a professor of North Korean studies at Korea University in Seoul, said although previous episodes of tense brinkmanship had not escalated into conflict, this could not be ruled out.