Soldiers cross border, landmines explode as North Korea reinforces border — Seoul military

Agence France-Presse
Soldiers cross border, landmines explode as North Korea reinforces border � Seoul military
A facility (top C) believed to be North Korean loudspeakers are seen at the top of a hill in North Korea as viewed from South Korea's Ganghwa Island near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the two Koreas on June 11, 2024. South Korean troops fired warning shots after North Korean soldiers briefly crossed the border this week, Seoul's military said on June 11, with tensions high over Pyongyang's barrage of trash-carrying balloons and the South's retaliatory loudspeaker campaign.
Photo by Yonhap / AFP

SEOUL, South Korea — Dozens of North Korean soldiers briefly crossed the heavily fortified border with the South on Tuesday and retreated after warning shots were fired, Seoul's military said, adding landmine explosions had injured Pyongyang's troops in the area.

It is the second such incident involving North Korean troops in two weeks, with Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff saying they believed the Tuesday crossing -- like a previous one on June 9 -- was accidental.

The two Koreas remain technically at war as the 1950-1953 conflict ended in an armistice not a peace treaty, with the demilitarized zone and line of control dividing the peninsula one of the most heavily mined places in the world.

"Dozens of North Korean troops crossed the Military Demarcation Line today... (and) retreated northwards after warning shots" were fired, a JCS official said.

Seoul's military also said Tuesday that several North Korean soldiers had been injured when a landmine exploded near the border, without revealing the date.

The North Koreans were working on creating "barren land" and laying mines along the border, an official from the JCS said, but ended up "suffering multiple casualties from repeated landmine explosion incidents during their work".

Even so, the North's military "appear to be recklessly pressing ahead with the operations," the official said.

This year, North Korea has been working to remove streetlights from roads and dig up railway tracks that connected the two countries when ties were better, they added.

Since April, North Korea has deployed troops along the front line "to create barren land", the official said, adding the North was also laying more landmines, reinforcing tactical roads, and adding what appeared to be anti-tank barriers.

"North Korea's activities seem to be a measure to strengthen internal control, such as blocking North Korean troops and North Koreans from defecting to the South," the JCS official said.

The vast majority of North Koreans who escape the country first go to China before making their way to the South, usually via another country, with only a handful ever managing to cross the DMZ, which is riddled with landmines and has a heavy military presence on both sides.

June 9 incident

The incident comes as North Korea prepares to receive Russian President Vladimir Putin for a rare state visit likely to boost defence ties between the two isolated countries.

On June 9, Seoul said that North Korean soldiers briefly crossed the line that separates the two militaries -- saying it happened in an overgrown area of the heavily fortified border area and was likely accidental.

About 20 North Korean soldiers crossed the border in that incident, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Relations between the two Koreas are at one of their lowest points in years.

In recent weeks, North Korea has sent more than a thousand balloons laden with trash including cigarette butts and toilet paper southward -- a response, it says, to balloons carrying anti-Pyongyang propaganda sent north by activists.

In response, the South Korean government has suspended a 2018 tension-reducing military deal and restarted loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts along the border, infuriating the North, which warned Seoul was creating "a new crisis".

"The recent increase in the entry of North Korean military into the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) is due to the need for mine clearance and surveying for the installation of barriers," Ahn Chan-il, a defector-turned-researcher who runs the World Institute for North Korea Studies, told AFP.

"Engineering and observation units have increased their presence in the area. It is believed that the disorderly actions of those who are unfamiliar with the minefields have led to these mine-related accidents."

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