North Korean authorities have issued an order for military units to be combat-ready without any explanation, following landmine explosions in the demilitarized zone that injured two South Korean soldiers, sources inside the country said.
Two South Korean soldiers on regular patrol duty near the military demarcation line on the southern side of the heavily guarded demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separates the North from the South, were severely injured on Aug. 4 by an explosion of three landmines presumably buried by North Korea. As a result of the blast, one soldier had one leg amputated, while the other underwent a double amputation.
A half hour later the same day, North Korea authorities issued an “urgent combat-ready” order to all military units, sources said.
“As of Aug. 4, an ‘urgent combat-ready’ order had been issued to all troops,” a source living in Ryanggang province told RFA’s Korean Service. “However, no one thinks it’s a complicated situation or any tension between Seoul and Pyongyang has been generated because of the combat readiness order.”
When authorities issued the order, they provided no explanations to commanders, a source in Jagang Province said.
Military officers understood the order to be related to the annual Ulchi-Freedom Guardian joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States, which will begin next week, he said. The exercises focus on defending South Korea from an attack by the North.
North Korea routinely condemns the exercises as a rehearsal for invasion by the South.
In Manpo, a city in northwestern Jagang province, the 11th Army Corps, 22nd Border Defense Regiment, the 5th Regiment of the 1st Air Division and some soldiers from the Escort Command in charge of guarding the Manpo Precision Instrument factory which may produce armaments or related machines or instruments, he said.
“Besides the border defense regiments stationed in Manpo, every military unit has received an ‘urgent combat-ready’ order, although no particular tension [with the South] exists,” he said.
Citizens remain unfazed
North Korean citizens have remained unfazed by the combat readiness order because of the upcoming military parade held in the capital Pyongyang to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the country’s Workers’ Party, he said.
If the tension between the North and the South had escalated, authorities would not hold the parade with major military forces in Pyongyang, the source from Ryanggang province said.
A significant number of soldiers, including strike forces, already have converged upon Pyongyang to begin training for the military parade along with the arrival of medium- and long-range missiles, he said.
Seoul has accused North Korean soldiers of sneaking across the border to plant the landmines, and on Monday demanded an apology from the North for what it called a cowardly act of military provocation and breach of the armistice that halted the 1950-1953 Korean War.
South Korea responded by turning on its powerful loudspeakers along the border and blasting propaganda broadcasts — a tactic it hasn’t used since 2004, according to media reports.
An investigation by the U.S.-led United Nations Command also blamed North Korea for planting the landmines and condemned what it called a violation of the armistice.
So far, North Korea has not formally responded to the incident through its mouthpiece news outlets since Seoul publicly laid blame on it, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said Wednesday.
“Although the ‘urgent combat-ready’ order has been issued, it is impossible that it will lead to a real war,” the source from Ryanggang province said.
He added that if the North Korean People’s Army did plant the landmines that injured the two South Korean soldiers patrolling the DMZ, it would constitute foolish behavior on the part of North Korea’s military command.
North Korea’s military would find it difficult to respond to a retaliatory attack by the South because all its forces are now concentrated in Pyongyang preparing for the parade, he said.
Reported by Sung-hui Moon for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Hyosun Kim. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.