News / Asia

US, S. Korea Remain on Heightened Alert

A U.S. Army soldier gestures to a fellow solider as they participate in annual military drills in Yeoncheon, South Korea, near the border with North Korea, April 11, 2013.
A U.S. Army soldier gestures to a fellow solider as they participate in annual military drills in Yeoncheon, South Korea, near the border with North Korea, April 11, 2013.
U.S. and South Korean forces remain on heightened alert for a possible North Korean missile test that officials say could take place at any time. A Japanese news media report Thursday said North Korea appeared to be preparing to launch a missile.  But there has been no announcement from North Korea on any imminent launches.

South Korea's ministry of national defense says it cannot confirm a report that a North Korean missile launcher has been observed in a “raised position.”

Japan's Kyodo news agency issued such a dispatch, quoting a source in the Japanese defense ministry.

In Seoul, Ministry of National Defense spokesman Kim Min-seok said it is anticipated that a firing of one or more missiles will occur before or around next Monday, the birth anniversary of North Korea's founder Kim Il Sung.  But he said little else about is known.

"Nobody knows if North Korea is going to launch a missile, how many and whether it will head towards the east coast, the Philippines or our southern coast," said Kim.

The South's defense ministry spokesman adds that he cannot confirm reports that North Korea is moving around its missile launcher vehicles to confuse intelligence monitoring and thwart South Korea and the United States from determining the precise moment of launch.

Media reports say a pair of Musudan intermediate range ballistic missiles is being shuffled in and out of a shed in the port city of Wonsan, while up to five transport erector-launcher vehicles are moving around South Hamgyeong province.

Before previous launches, North Korea notified mariners and commercial aviators of its intent to conduct missile tests. There have been no such announcements, so far, from Pyongyang. And, there have been no indications that the North has mobilized its large army.

Other forces in the region remain on high alert, in case of any military provocation by North Korea.

The U.S. Navy has two anti-missile destroyers in waters off the peninsula. It has also moved a sea-based 85-meter tall radar platform into position in the Pacific.

South Korea's military has ships equipped with the advanced Aegis missile-tracking radar system. It also has deployed anti-missile Patriot class batteries and observation aircraft, as part of a coordinated effort to track and possibly shoot down any missile over the country.

Japan has set up anti-missile PAC-3 batteries in various locations. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has ordered them to be used to intercept any missile that might cross over the country and destroy any falling debris from a multi-stage flight.

Japan's chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, says Tokyo has told Pyongyang, via diplomatic channels, to halt its provocations.

Suga says every possible measure is being taken to protect Japanese people's lives and ensure the country's security.

  • North Korean children hold up red scarves to be tied around their necks during an induction ceremony into the Korean Children's Union held at a stadium in Pyongyang, April 12, 2013.
  • Two military officers admire displays at a flower show featuring thousands of Kimilsungia flowers, named after the late North Korean leader Kim Il Sung, Pyongyang, April 12, 2013.
  • South Korean soldiers stand guard at an observation post near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) which separates the two Koreas in Paju, north of Seoul April 11, 2013.
  • Female North Korean soldiers patrol along the banks of Yalu River, near the North Korean town of Sinuiju, opposite the Chinese border city of Dandong, April 11, 2013.
  • A North Korean man blocks his face with his hand from being photographed as he and other residents take a ferry in Yalu River, near the North Korean town of Sinuiju, opposite the Chinese border city of Dandong, April 11, 2013.
  • People take part in an oath-taking before the statues of late North Korean leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il on Mansudae Hill in Pyongyang, April 10, 2013. (KCNA)
  • Anti-North Korean protesters release balloons with peace messages on the Grand Unification Bridge leading to the North near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, north of Seoul, April 10, 2013.
  • South Koreans arrive with their belongings from North Korea's Kaesong at the customs, immigration and quarantine office near the border village of Panmunjom, in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, April 9, 2013.
  • Visitors look at the industrial complex in Kaesong, North Korea, through binoculars at Dora Observation Post in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) near the border village of Panmunjom, in Paju, South Korea, April 9, 2013.
  • A South Korean military vehicle passes by gates leading to the North Korean city of Kaesong at the customs, immigration and quarantine office near the border village of Panmunjom, April 8, 2013.
  • An elementary school teacher orders her students to leave as they watch South Korean housewives denounce annual South Korean-U.S. military exercises, near the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, April 8, 2013.
  • South Korean army soldiers patrol along a barbed-wire fence near the border village of the Panmunjom, in Paju, South Korea, April 8, 2013.
  • North Korean military dogs run to a target with a portrait of South Korean Defence Minister Kim Kwan-jin during a military drill, April 6, 2013. (KCNA)

For the first time, Thursday, North Korea's state media mentioned, by name, South Korea's president, who was inaugurated on February 25.

A radio announcer, reading a dispatch from the Korean Central News Agency, says the “Park Geun-hye regime stands for confrontation” with North Korea, adding the “chief executive” in the South cannot shirk responsibility for the risk of failure of the Kaesong Industrial Zone.

Hours later in Seoul, the cabinet minister in charge of relations with the North stepped before a microphone at the Ministry of Unification.

Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae says “North Korea must favor discussion for issues that it wants to raise.”

But when pressed on whether he was calling for two-way official talks, Ryoo explained "that rather than a proposal for dialog" his statement is intended as a pronouncement on the need for dialog to resolve outstanding problems, such as the Kaesong project and "North Korea's increasing threatening actions."

This week, North Korea pulled its 53,000 workers out of the factory complex, the only remaining joint project between the two Koreas. It has refused to issue permits for South Korean managers and cargo trucks to enter the complex, last week.

The high tension on the peninsula has prompted Taiwan to issue a travel alert to its citizens. Its foreign ministry is advising Taiwanese to delay travel to South Korea because the situation is “unclear.”

A foreign ministry spokesman in Seoul told reporters Thursday there is no reason for anyone to avoid visiting South Korea.

A North Korean peace committee, which is a government agency, issued an appeal this week to foreigners in South Korea that, in consideration for their own safety, they should leave the country.

That appears to have been largely ignored by expatriates and tourists in South Korea.

Last week, North Korea asked diplomats in Pyongyang to devise embassy evacuation plans by Wednesday, contending war could break out at any time.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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Comment Sorting
by: Observer from: Southeastasia
April 12, 2013 12:58 AM
Seeing the panicky reactions of many people in South Korea and Japan, and their leaders, this young "demigod" and his generals have been laughing, eating, and sleeping bettter. They seem to act better than Hollywood actors.

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