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S. Korea concerned about further DPRK provocation over propaganda broadcasts

by Yoo Seungki

SEOUL, Aug. 21 (Xinhua) -- Concerns deepened in South Korea about additional provocations from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) after the exchange of artillery fires in border areas over propaganda broadcasts and mines blast.

South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo convened a meeting of military commanders Friday, saying that the DPRK will likely conduct a certain type of provocations after 5 p.m. (0800 GMT) Saturday, the deadline Pyongyang imposed to demand the removal of loudspeakers used by the South Korean military for propaganda broadcasts.

From Aug. 10, South Korea resumed airing propaganda messages with sets of loudspeakers in 11 sites along the land border, which the DPRK condemned as "a declaration of war."

The resumption of psychological warfare in 11 years came in retaliation for the explosion on the south side of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) of three wooden-box landmines, which maimed two South Korean soldiers on Aug. 4.

South Korea claimed the mines had been planted by DPRK forces in violation of the armistice agreement, but the DPRK denied any involvement in the incident.

On Thursday, 10 days after the resumption, the DPRK fired a round of anti-artillery machine gun and three shells of 76.2-mm direct-fire weapon in the western border toward the South Korean region.

The firing left no casualties in South Korea, which shot back dozens of rounds of 155-mm self-propelled howitzers at the DPRK side of the DMZ in retaliation for the provocation. There was no casualty reported from the DPRK.

Top DPRK leader Kim Jong Un chaired an emergency enlarged meeting of the central military commission of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea late Thursday, ordering frontline combined forces to enter state of war from 5 p.m. (0830 GMT) Friday.

Unless South Korea stops the propaganda broadcasts within 48 hours from 5 p.m. (0800 GMT) Thursday, the DPRK will launch military actions, according to an ultimatum sent Thursday via military hotline by the general staff department of the Korean People's Army to the South Korean defense ministry. Last weekend, the DPRK threatened indiscriminate strikes against the loudspeakers, which Pyongyang demanded to be dismantled.

Despite the threat, the South Korean military said that it will continue to blast propaganda messages across the border, which young DPRK soldiers haven't heard in the past 11 years. The two Koreas agreed in June 2004 to the stop of propaganda broadcasts.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye chaired an emergency meeting Thursday of the National Security Council for the first time since her inauguration, ordering a stern retaliation against any further provocation. South Korean troops were put on highest alert from Thursday.

South Korea and the United States, which kicked off their joint annual war game Monday, raised a joint alert level toward the DPRK. The WATCHCON, or Watch Condition to measure reconnaissance posture against the DPRK, was upgraded Friday after the exchange of fires between the two Koreas.

The five-tier alert level is usually set at four, and is up when tensions rise on the Korean Peninsula. Under the alert level upgrade, more reconnaissance military assets are mobilized to close monitor the move of DPRK forces.

The DPRK forward-deployed more fire units to the frontline areas already packed with major DPRK artilleries such as 240-mm multiple rocket launchers and 170-mm self-propelled howitzers, raising possibility for military conflict between the two Koreas.

On the other hand, South Korea said the DPRK on Thursday sent a letter to Kim Kwan-jin, top security advisor to President Park, in the name of Kim Yang Gon, director of the DPRK's United Front Department in charge of inter-Korean relations.

The letter, unveiled by South Korea's unification ministry, said that the DPRK was willing to resolve the worsened situation and make efforts at opening a path to mending ties with South Korea.

Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-hee told a press briefing Friday that the DPRK's sincerity was in doubt as the letter was sent to South Korea after conducting firing provocation across the border. Jeong added that the DPRK also denied the provocation, putting its sincerity in more doubt.

The unification ministry restricted access to the inter-Korean industrial zone in Kaesong, some 10 km north of the inter-Korean land border, after the cross-border exchange of fires.

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