North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (L) stands on the conning tower of a submarine during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167 © KCNA

 

North Korea has doubled its artillery power and the majority of its submarines seem to be away from their bases, a South Korean military official said, as cited by the Yonhap news agency. The announcement comes amid ongoing talks between the two sides over the border crisis.

 

According to the official, more than 50 North Korean submarines are out for operations. “Seventy percent of North Korea’s submarines left their bases, and their locations are not confirmed,” a South Korean military official said, adding that Pyongyang has about 70 submarines in total.

 

 

 

“It’s a very serious situation,” the official added.

In the meantime, the Yonhap news agency reported that six South Korean fighter jets have returned home ahead of schedule from the Red Flag Alaska military drills. The F-16s were initially planned to fly back later this week.

Tensions have recently escalated on the Korean peninsula after both sides exchanged fire on Thursday. Also on Thursday there were reports that South Korea had ordered the evacuation of some 15,000 civilians from the border area to the west of the Korean Peninsula, reportedly shelled by the North’s military.

On Saturday, Pyongyang delivered an ultimatum to Seoul demanding it stop broadcasting propaganda via loudspeakers across the borders. It set a deadline of 17:00 local time (08:00 GMT) on Saturday for this to happen. The North threatened ‘imminent’ military action if Seoul didn’t meet the demands.

However, South Korean Vice Defense Minister Baek Seung-joo told parliament that the broadcasts would continue, adding the North was likely to fire at areas in the Demilitarized Zone where transmitters are stationed.

The second round of talks between the North and South’s top officials are ongoing on Sunday. Earlier on Saturday, the sides started negotiations to try and ease the border crisis. The meeting lasted over 10 hours and went past midnight. The sides then adjourned to review each other’s positions.

According to a South Korean Defense Ministry official, Seoul will target any Pyongyang units that attack loudspeakers in the Demilitarized Zone.

“In case of fire on broadcasting stations in the Demilitarized Zone, our armed forces will counterattack” he told TASS, adding the South’s military “would act proportionally against any threats they face.”

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Seoul, South Korea – South Korean President Park-geun hye said Monday that she’s still waiting for an apology from North Korea as marathon talks between the two sides over a recent spike in military tensions spilled into a third day.

Park said that she wants Pyongyang to apologize for recent provocations, including landmine blasts that badly wounded two South Korean soldiers earlier this month.

“This is a matter of national security and safety of our people,” she said. “This not a matter where we can back down, even if North Korea maximizes its provocations and threatens security like it did in the past.”

The mines, which exploded in the Demilitarized Zone that separates the two countries, set off an antagonistic spiral. South Korea, a key U.S. ally, responded by resuming propaganda broadcasts over the border for the first time in more than a decade, a move that infuriated Kim Jong Un’s regime.

North Korea fired shells over the DMZ on Thursday, apparently aimed at the loudspeakers blaring the messages, setting off a brief exchange of fire.

Pyongyang also set a deadline of Saturday evening for Seoul to turn the speakers off or face military action.

Marathon talks

As the time approached, the two longtime foes announced high-level talks in Panmunjom, an abandoned village in the DMZ that now serves as a site for inter-Korean meetings.

After a break during the day on Sunday, the talks resumed that evening and continued through Monday morning and into the afternoon, according to the South Korean government.

Park took a hard stance in her comments Monday, saying the loudspeaker broadcasts would continue unless North Korea apologized for the recent provocations. Pyongyang has denied that it planted the mines or started the exchange of fire Thursday.

It remained unclear how the talks in the DMZ would pan out.

“Tough negotiations between high-level representatives of South and North Korea have been under way for many hours amid the grave security crisis on the Korean Peninsula,” Min Kyung-wook , a spokesman for Park’s office, said Monday, according to the South Korean news agency Yonhap.

Pyongyang’s mixed messages

The tense situation highlights the mixed messages Kim’s government gives off during unpredictable bouts of brinkmanship.

At the same time as it was sending top envoys to talk to the South, the secretive regime was also pumping out its notorious brand of ominous-sounding propaganda.

“Let us destroy the warmongering South Korean puppet military!” announced an anchor on North Korea state television at the same time as the second round of negotiations between the two sides began Sunday.

That was followed by clips of uniformed young men holding up a sign that read “Death to U.S. imperialists” followed by them signing a pledge to destroy America.

Such scenes are typical on North Korea’s only television channel, but Sunday’s fare appeared to have less variety than usual. Music breaks featured all-military orchestras — there were no children or civilians playing.

‘Depressing regularity’ of tensions

Adding to the uncertain backdrop to the talks, North Korea doubled its artillery forces on the front lines and 70% of its submarine units left their bases, a South Korean Defense Ministry official said.

South Korea has warned it will retaliate strongly to any further North Korean provocations.

South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said his country and the U.S., which have held annual joint military exercises, will keep working together as the tensions continue.

“Our position is that South Korea and the U.S. are currently continuously closely monitoring the crisis situation in the Korean peninsula, and we are flexibly reviewing the timing of the U.S. strategic assets deployment,” he said.

The talks and the tensions have a familiar pattern to them, according to some analysts.

“I see this is as yet another of the small cycles of the skirmishes that we see between North and South Korea that just happens in depressing regularity,” said Professor David Kang of the University of Southern California’s Korean Studies Institute.

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