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South Korean troops fired warning shots after brief border incursion from North

South Korean army soldiers patrol along the barbed-wire fence in Paju, South Korea, near the border with North Korea, on April 23, 2024.
Ahn Young-joon
South Korean army soldiers patrol along the barbed-wire fence in Paju, South Korea, near the border with North Korea, on April 23, 2024.

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean soldiers fired warning shots after North Korean troops briefly violated the tense border earlier this week, South Korea's military said Tuesday, as the rivals are embroiled in Cold War-style campaigns like balloon launches and propaganda broadcasts.

Bloodshed and violent confrontations have occasionally occurred at the Koreas' heavily fortified border, called the Demilitarized Zone. While Sunday's incident happened amid simmering tensions between the two Koreas, observers say it won't likely develop into another source of animosity as South Korea believes the North Koreans didn't deliberately commit the border intrusion and North Korea also didn't return fire.

At 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, some North Korean soldiers who were engaged in unspecified work on the northern side of the border crossed the military demarcation line that bisects the two countries, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

Those North Korean soldiers carrying construction tools — some of them armed — immediately returned to their territory after South Korea’s military fired warning shots and issued warning broadcasts, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said. It said North Korea had not conducted any other suspicious activities.

South Korea’s military has assessed that the North Korean soldiers didn’t appear to have intentionally crossed the border because the site is a wooded area and MDL signs there weren’t clearly visible, Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesperson Lee Sung Joon told reporters.

Lee gave no further details. But South Korean media reports said that about 20-30 North Korean soldiers had entered South Korean territory about 50 meters (165 feet) after they likely lost their way. The reports said most of the North Korean soldiers were carrying pickaxes and other construction tools.

The 248-kilometer (155-mile) -long, 4-kilometer (2.5-mile) -wide DMZ is the world’s most heavily armed border. An estimated 2 million mines are peppered inside and near the border, which is also guarded by barbed wire fences, tank traps and combat troops on both sides. It’s a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

On Sunday, South Korea resumed anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts from its border loudspeakers in response to the North’s recent launches of balloons carrying manure and rubbish across the border. South Korea said North Korea has installed its own border loudspeakers in response but hasn’t turned them on yet.

North Korea has said its balloon campaign was in response to South Korean activists' launches of their own balloons to drop propaganda leaflets critical of leader Kim Jong Un's authoritarian rule, USB sticks with K-pop songs and South Korean drama shows, and other items in North Korea.

North Korea is extremely sensitive to any outside criticism of its political system as most of its 26 million people have no official access to foreign news. On Sunday night, Kim's sister and senior official, Kim Yo Jong, warned of “a new response” if South Korea continued its loudspeaker broadcasts and refused to stop civilian leafletting campaigns.

The tit-for-tat over speakers and balloons — both Cold War-style psychological warfare — have deepened tensions between the Koreas as talks over the North’s nuclear ambitions have remained stalled for years.

Copyright 2024 NPR

The Associated Press
[Copyright 2024 NPR]