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May 26, 2010

North Korea Scraps Military Safeguards with South

In a sharp escalation of tensions with South Korea, North Korea says it is discarding military procedures the two sides have agreed to follow for years to ensure a conflict does not get out of hand.

The general staff of the North Korean People's Army issued a notice Thursday dismantling a wide range of security guarantees it has observed for years.

Pyongyang says it will completely nullify a bilateral agreement with the South that was put in place to prevent clashes in waters west of the Korean peninsula.  That is the maritime region where North Korea has disputed a sea border for decades and where an international team of investigators concluded a North Korean submarine sank a South Korean patrol ship in March, killing 46 sailors.

The North says it will stop using maritime shortwave radio frequencies with the South and cut off other means of emergency communication.

That warning came as South Korea's navy conducted anti-submarine warfare drills off its west coast.  South Korea and the United States have announced they will conduct a joint anti-submarine exercise, widely expected to take place within a matter of weeks.

The North Korean military notice, carried on state-run media, also said South Korean ships and aircraft will no longer be allowed passage through the North's territorial space. Pyongyang says it may also prevent access into or out of a joint industrial complex in the North Korean city, Kaesong, potentially trapping hundreds of South Korean business managers there.

Thursday's notice is the latest unraveling of inter-Korean agreements put in place since a historic 2000 summit to ease tensions and encourage exchanges between the two sides. Yang Moo-jin, a scholar with the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, says the North is "playing hard ball".

He says North Korea's actions block any exchange of people and resources between the Koreas. He says it is an all-out shutdown.

Regularly scheduled tours of South Korea's side of the heavily armed inter-Korean border were abruptly curtailed Thursday after the North's announcement came out, as a safety precaution.

Professor Yang says the situation could easily escalate.

He says the power struggle taking place between the two Korea's could result in what he says could be "some of the most terrible things to happen since the Korean War".