South Korean troops are on guard against any military provocation by North Korea after the communist state ordered a border clampdown amid worsening ties, the defense ministry said yesterday.
The North on Monday imposed strict border controls and ordered the expulsion of hundreds of South Koreans working at the Kaesong joint industrial estate, in protest at what it calls the Seoul government’s confrontational policy.
It also halted a cross-border cargo rail service and a popular day tour.
“In response to the North’s Dec. 1 measure, surveillance and control operations are being stepped up against [any] naval attacks and attempts to kidnap fishing boats,” the ministry said.
Special training programs are also being implemented to cope with “contingencies” along the heavily fortified land border, it said in a report to parliament.
Some analysts believe the North may provoke a limited clash around the disputed border in the Yellow Sea, the scene of bloody naval battles in 1999 and 2002.
The ministry report also said the North deployed new ballistic missiles last year with a range of 2,500km to 4,000km. It was building up ground forces including tanks, artillery and special warfare troops.
A defense ministry spokesman declined to elaborate on the missiles.
The report also accused the North of breaching or failing to honor most military agreements reached between the two sides, who have remained technically at war since their 1950 to 1953 conflict ended only in an armistice.
Ties have worsened since a conservative government came to office in Seoul in February, after 10 years of liberal rule marked by a “sunshine” policy of engagement and generous aid to the North.
The new government linked major economic aid to progress in the North’s denuclearization, a stance that enraged Pyongyang.
North Korea is also angry at propaganda leaflets floated by activists across the border. The activists released 10 huge gas-filled balloons yesterday carrying a total of 100,000 leaflets, the second such launch in as many days.
“Down with the Kim Jong-il dictatorship!” read a slogan on one.
The unification ministry, which handles cross-border ties, appealed again for a halt to the launches “in consideration of the current inter-Korean situation.”
It says it has no legal power to ban them.
Also unhappy at the balloons are owners of Kaesong factories. The North ordered hundreds of South Koreans to leave the Seoul-funded estate and now permits only 880 of them to work there, half the number that Seoul says are needed.
Factory representatives urged the Seoul government to stop the balloon launches.
“Some leaflets fell on a factory roof and there was a misunderstanding [that] they were spread by South Korean staff there,” said one businessman quoted by Yonhap news agency.