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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Tuesday, January 23, 2018

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South Korea fires warning shots at heavily militarized DMZ

Asian allies, South Korea and Japan.

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SEOUL, South Korea - Complicating efforts to ease tensions over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, South Korean guards fired warning shots across the heavily militarized border with North Korea.

On Thursday, South Korean defence forces fired the warning shots as a soldier from the North defected in thick fog.

A South Korean defense ministry official said up to 20 warning shots were fired as North Korean troops approached too near the “military demarcation line” at the demilitarized zone (DMZ), apparently in search of the missing soldier.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman, Roh Jae-cheon, said on Thursday, a low-ranking soldier crossed the border near a South Korean guard post. 

Officials confirmed that no shots were fired at the soldier.

Roh said that surveillance equipment detected him despite heavy fog that limited visibility to about 100 meters.

A defense ministry official in the South said that South Korean guards fired about 20 warning shots at North Korean troops near the border presumably searching for the defector about half an hour later.

Later, Gunfire from the North was detected but the target could not be determined, officials said.

The incident came about five weeks after a North Korean soldier suffered critical gunshot wounds during a defection dash across the border.

Officials in South Korea said that on Wednesday, two North Korean civilians were also found in a fishing boat and had sought to defect.

This, South Korean officials confirmed, brought the total number of North Koreans who have defected by taking dangerous routes either directly across the border or by sea to 15 so far this year.

They also pointed out that the number is three times the number recorded last year.

According to South Korea, over 880 North Koreans have defected to the rich, democratic South so far this year.

However, the vast majority have taken a less dangerous route through China.

By going through China, defectors manage to avoid the DMZ, which features landmines, barbed wire, surveillance cameras, electric fencing and thousands of armed troops on both sides.

The number of defectors arriving successfully in the South has dropped since North Korean leader Kim Jong Un took power in late 2011.

This trend, defectors and experts believe may be linked to a crackdown by Pyongyang.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have already been high after the reclusive, impoverished North Korean regime accelerated testing of its missile and nuclear programs this year in defiance of international pressure and UN sanctions.

Further, the increased number of defections also threaten to complicate South Korea’s efforts to ensure the smooth running of the 2018 Winter Olympics, which begin in Pyeongchang in February.

Earlier this week, South Korean President Moon Jae In said he had proposed postponing major military drills with the United States until after the games in an attempt to soothe relations.

However, officials in Seoul later said any proposed delay would depend on the North not engaging in any “provocations.”

The U.S. military’s 8th Army said in a notice published online that a “significant number of North Korean propaganda leaflets and CDs” had been distributed at “strategic locations” on multiple U.S. military bases in South Korea.

The notice called on troops to report any suspicious individuals to help combat potential “insider threats” that could disrupt military operations.

Currently, the United States stations 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War.

North Korea has however argued that regular U.S.-South Korean military drills are a prelude to invasion. 

It has used the exercises by the rivals as the main reason for accelerating its defenses by strengthening its nuclear program, and regularly threatens to destroy the United States and its two key Asian allies, South Korea and Japan.

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