North Korea may fire short-range missiles across its disputed sea border with South Korea to bolster its saber-rattling campaign against the Seoul government, media reports said yesterday.
Officials believe this is the likeliest form of provocation from Pyongyang, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper and Yonhap news agency reported.
The North, which is fiercely hostile to Seoul’s conservative government, announced last week it has scrapped all peace agreements with the South including one covering the Yellow Sea borderline.
Its official media has repeatedly warned of a possible armed clash.
Pyongyang is also apparently preparing for a separate long-range missile test-launch, US and South Korean officials said this week. Washington has said any such launch would be “provocative.”
Chosun said Seoul security officials at a meeting last Saturday — the day the North scrapped its pacts — concluded that a missile launch over the Northern Limit Line (NLL) was the likeliest provocation.
The North refuses to recognize the NLL, which was drawn unilaterally by UN forces after the 1950-1953 war. The area was the scene of bloody naval clashes in 1999 and 2002.
“Pyongyang may use the logic that South Korean leaflets being sent to the North is on a par with North Korea firing missiles at the South,” Chosun quoted an official as saying.
Rights activists periodically use balloons to launch leaflets across the border fiercely criticizing the North’s regime.
They plan another launch to mark North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s birthday on Feb. 16, and Chosun said the North could retaliate with some kind of military action.
The North used its west coast naval base on Chodo island to test-fire missiles into its own waters last October. The sea border is in range of Chodo.
Chosun quoted an unidentified intelligence officer as saying the North may not provoke a naval skirmish because the South’s navy is better-armed.
Yonhap said the apparent preparations for a long-range missile launch — in full view of satellite TV cameras — could be aimed at distracting attention from planned launches across the sea border.
“We are intensifying our monitoring of the west coast because we believe that is where North Korea could fire short-range missiles in a surprise move,” a defense official told the agency.
“Missiles could be launched near the NLL because that is the area North Korea wants to make a statement on,” said Paik Hak-soon of the Sejong Institute think tank.