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Pyongyang shifts troops from front

Feb 12,2019
Pyongyang has redeployed around 600 soldiers who were stationed at now-dismantled guard posts in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) to construction sites in Wonsan and Samjiyon, according to a South Korean government source on Sunday.

According to the source, North Korean officials indirectly told their counterparts in the South that their leader Kim Jong-un ordered a large scale redeployment of much of the country’s military manpower toward economic construction projects, as military tensions have eased following the Sept. 19 high-level military talks between the two Koreas.

In those discussions, the two sides agreed to each dismantle 11 guard posts in the DMZ as a first step to transforming the area into a peace zone. By December, both sides had completely demolished 10 frontline guard posts each, while retaining one on either side for historical and cultural purposes.

Based on the source, the approximately 600 soldiers who were stationed at the 11 North Korean guard posts have since been reassigned to build a “cultural city” in Samjiyon, Ryanggang Province, and a tourist resort in Kalma-Wonsan.

“The [South Korean] government has commended Chairman Kim’s will to pursue economic development and denuclearization with such a step and has relayed the information to the United States as well,” said the source.

Military analysts say the North’s redeployment of its military force toward economic purposes has the dual effect of pressuring the United States to dial down its sanctions on North Korea by showing it has redirected its priorities, as well as pushing the South to reduce its own military strength.

Kim Jong-un’s speech at the country’s Armed Forces Ministry during the commemoration of the Korean People’s Army’s 71st anniversary Friday also stressed the military’s role in economic development, which analysts said also served as a signal to the United States that economic sanctions should be dismantled. That day was coincidentally the same day Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative on North Korea, left Pyongyang after three days of working-level talks in preparation for the summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump, scheduled for Feb. 27-28 in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Kim departed from the North’s traditional usage of belligerent language toward the United States or “enemy countries,” as well as references to nuclear armament in the speech. He called instead for the army to do its part in the implementation of a “five-year national economic development plan.”

According to analysts, Kim’s public announcement, that he will redeploy the military toward economic development, is aimed at showing the United States that North Korea is willing to lay down its nuclear arsenal in exchange for economic rewards - primarily the dismantlement of the current sanctions on the regime.

“In the past, [Kim] would have stressed [the North] becoming a nuclear power through greater efforts, but this time [he] laid out an economic vision,” said Cho Seong-ryoul, a former chief researcher at the South’s Institute for National Security Strategy. “We can also [regard the speech] as a call for the military to lead denuclearization efforts.”

Cho Han-beom, a leading researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification, a South Korean government think tank, said the level of attention Kim gave the military event two years in a row was “irregular.”

“It looks like his attempt to pre-emptively placate possible dissatisfaction that may arise in the military with the North’s denuclearization efforts, while signaling that much of the country’s military strength could be redeployed towards the economy or even reduced in the future,” he said.

The speech and recent measures could also be intended by the North to bulk up its stance in the denuclearization negotiations with the United States, said another expert researcher at a public institute who requested anonymity.

BY BAEK MIN-JEONG [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]


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