North Korean leader orders artillery drill near disputed sea border with South Korea
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered an artillery firing drill near the disputed border in the sea off the western coast, state-run media reported Monday, prompting a protest from South Korea’s military.
Kim’s visit to the Changrin islet was a blow to President Moon Jae-in, who had hoped the North Korean leader would attend a special summit of Southeast Asian nations this week in the southern city of Busan.
Kim formally declined the invitation to the ASEAN meeting last week, saying “now is not the time” due to strained bilateral ties that have been a casualty of stalled nuclear talks with the United States.
The images of Kim surrounded by soldiers and examining a strategic map on a camouflaged observation post came amid rising tensions on the divided peninsula as nuclear talks with the United States show no public signs of revival.
The drill occurred on the Changrin islet as Kim made an unannounced inspection of a “defense detachment on the western front,” according to the Korean Central News Agency.
“He indicated the target for Gun 2 of the coastal artillery company on combat duty and gave an order to fire,” KCNA said, adding that the troops “fully showed their gun firing skills they cultivated in their day-to-day training to delight the Supreme Leader.”
Kim stressed the need for units at all levels of the army to “set up a well-knit system” to ensure that they “are in full readiness for carrying out a combat mission any moment,” the news agency said. It did not give a date or provide more details about the drills.
South Korea’s Defense Ministry said the drills violated a bilateral military pact aimed at preventing hostilities, which was signed last year as diplomatic efforts to improve relations and persuade the North to abandon its nuclear weapons reached a high point.
“We call on North Korea to immediately stop all military actions in border areas that risk heightening military tensions, and to fully comply with the pact,” defense ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyun-soo said during a press briefing.
North Korea has maintained a self-imposed moratorium on long-range missile and nuclear tests, but the communist state resumed artillery drills and short-range missile launches this year amid growing frustration over deadlocked diplomacy.
Most of the recent launches were aimed at the eastern sea. Changrin islet sits north of the Northern Limit Line. The de facto sea border has been a flashpoint for bloody naval skirmishes in the past, including a torpedo attack on the South Korean corvette Cheonan that killed 46 sailors in 2010.
North Korea has refused to acknowledge the maritime boundary on the grounds that it was drawn unilaterally by the U.S.-led United Nations Command after the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty.
Efforts to improve relations between the two Koreas have suffered setbacks as nuclear negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington deadlocked.
North Korea, which wants security guarantees and the lifting of punishing economic sanctions in exchange for denuclearization, has given the United States an end-of-year deadline to come up with a new approach.
Moon, meanwhile, remained optimistic about North Korea as the two-day ASEAN meeting got underway in Busan.
“Peace on the Korean Peninsula will lead to peace in East Asia, and it is the starting point for connecting the economies of East Asia into one,” he said in remarks, according to a transcript provided by his office.