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Joint Chiefs chair tours units

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Lee Sang-eui, chairman of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, visits the Marine Corps’ Second Division in Gimpo, Gyeonggi, on Wednesday. The military released the photo yesterday. [YONHAP]

In a move to ensure the South is militarily prepared for possible North Korean aggression, Lee Sang-eui, the chairman of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited key military units across the nation this week.

Today, the Army general will preside over a strategic meeting with military commanders. The generals are expected to discuss how the South should respond if North Korea violates the disputed maritime border in the Yellow Sea or shoots down South Korean loudspeakers broadcasting propaganda, as it has threatened this week.

Military officials said Lee’s tour included the guard battalion at Panmunjom near the border last Sunday, and by Tuesday he had inspected the Air Force’s Southern Combat Command, 11th Fighter Wing and Army Missile Command in Daegu, on the southeast coast.

Lee was on the west coast on Wednesday, visiting the Marine Corps’ Second Division in Gimpo, Gyeonggi. His cross-country trip took him back east to the Navy’s First Fleet Command in Donghae, Gangwon.

Lee urged unit commanders to be prepared to “firmly and thoroughly” counter any provocation by North Korea, the officials said.

Of special concern is the possibility of naval threats. South Korea plans to ban North Korean vessels from passing through South Korean waters, including the Jeju Strait in the south, and the commanders today will talk about how to deal with contingencies in the waters.

Also to be addressed is North Korea’s threat Thursday to block South Koreans and their vehicles from entering the Kaesong Industrial Complex. The North gave no time frame for any action, but the South fears that its citizens in Kaesong could be held hostage if Pyongyang decides to act on the warning.

Earlier Thursday, Defense Minister Kim Tae-young told South Korean political news editors that South and U.S. forces were “in close consultation” over contingencies of varying scale in Kaesong, including the chance that South Koreans could be taken hostage. Kim said earlier in the week that he thought there was “a great possibility” that South Korean workers could be held captive north of the border.

The Defense Ministry yesterday said that it is preparing military and non-military steps against potential North Korean actions. Addressing retired military commanders in a seminar, Army Maj. Gen. Ryu Je-seung, head of the ministry’s policy planning bureau, said the South is ready if North Korea decides to follow its belligerent rhetoric with actual provocation.

Ryu also said the Watch Condition, the five-level alert on North Korea, has been raised a notch from Level 3 to Level 2, which indicates the presence of a vital threat against national security. Under a Level 2 alert, South Korean and U.S. forces will step up their intelligence and reconnaissance efforts.

Also yesterday, Gen. Walter Sharp, the top U.S. military commander in South Korea, visited the South’s land border with North Korea and inspected U.S. troops there, Yonhap reported.



By Yoo Jee-ho [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]
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