North Korea warns of war with South Korea

Pyongyang: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un today declared his frontline troops in a “quasi-state of war” and ordered them to prepare for battle a day after South Korea fired dozens of artillery rounds across the rivals’ border in response to what the South said were several rounds of North Korean artillery launched at the South.

The North has made similar bombastic claims in the decades since the countries were divided following World War II, and the huge numbers of soldiers and military equipment stationed along the Koreas’ tense border mean the area is always essentially in a “quasi-state of war.”

Still, the North’s declaration could signal trouble because South Korea has vowed to hit back with overwhelming strength should North Korea attack again.

North Korea says it did not fire anything, a claim Seoul called nonsense.

Kim ordered at an emergency military meeting that his troops would “enter a wartime state” and be fully ready for any military operations starting Friday evening, according to Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency. The North has also given Seoul a deadline of Saturday evening to remove border loudspeakers that, after a lull of 11 years, have started broadcasting anti-Pyongyang propaganda.

The report said that “military commanders were urgently dispatched for operations to attack South Korean psychological warfare facilities if the South doesn’t stop operating them.” Seoul said the North fired Thursday across the Demilitarized Zone to back up an earlier threat to attack the South Korean loudspeakers.

North Korea later said the South Korean shells landed near four military posts but caused no injuries. No one was reported injured in the South, either, though hundreds were evacuated from front line towns.

The loudspeaker broadcasts began after South Korea accused the North of planting land mines that maimed two South Korean soldiers earlier this month.

Authoritarian North Korea, which has also restarted its own propaganda broadcasts, is extremely sensitive to any criticism of the government run by leader Kim Jong Un, whose family has ruled since the North was founded in 1948.

The broadcasts are taken seriously in Pyongyang because the government does not want its soldiers and residents to hear outsiders criticize what they call world-leading human rights abuse and economic mismanagement that condemns many to abject poverty, South Korean analysts say.

North Korea yesterday first fired a single round believed to be from an anti-aircraft gun, which landed near a South Korean border town, Seoul said. About 20 minutes later, three North Korean artillery shells fell on the southern side of the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas.

South Korea responded with dozens of 155-milimeter artillery rounds, according to South Korean defense officials.

The exchange stopped there, but the North’s army warned in a message later yesterday that it would take further military action if South Korea didn’t pull down the loudspeakers within 48 hours. (AP)

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