North's provocations include planes, missile, artillery barrages

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North's provocations include planes, missile, artillery barrages

North Korea conducts a live-fire training exercise firing dozens of artillery shots with leader Kim Jong-un watching, reported Pyongyang’s official Korean Central Television on March 20, 2020. [YONHAP]

North Korea conducts a live-fire training exercise firing dozens of artillery shots with leader Kim Jong-un watching, reported Pyongyang’s official Korean Central Television on March 20, 2020. [YONHAP]

Seoul called Pyongyang's firing of hundreds of artillery shots into maritime buffer zones off its coasts Friday a violation of the inter-Korean military agreement of Sept. 19, 2018.  
In the early hours of Friday, the North engaged in a series of simultaneous provocations, flying 10 warplanes close to the inter-Korean border, launching a short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) into the East Sea and firing some 170 artillery shots.  
The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said that the 10 North Korean warplanes' flights took place from 10:30 p.m. Thursday to 12:20 a.m. Friday, and the South Korean Air Force scrambled F-35A stealth fighters to the scene.

The North Korean aircraft came as close to 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) north of the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) and about 12 kilometers north of the Northern Limit Line (NLL), the de-facto inter-Korean maritime border in the Yellow Sea.  
It was the first time since October 2012 that North Korean military aircraft crossed the so-called tactical action line about 20 to 50 kilometers north of the NLL and MDL.  
The aircraft also flew five kilometers north of a no-fly zone designated under the 2018 inter-Korean comprehensive military agreement.

The JCS said North Korea fired some 130 artillery shots into the Yellow Sea from Majang-dong in Hwanghae Province, between 1:20 a.m. and 1:25 a.m. Friday and another 40 artillery shots into the East Sea from Gueup-ri in Kangwon Province between 2:57 a.m. and 3:07 a.m.  
South Korea's military said many artillery shots fell into the so-called maritime buffer zones set under the 2018 inter-Korean comprehensive military agreement signed on the sidelines of President Moon Jae-in's summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang in September 2018, which called for the de-escalation of cross-border tensions.

The JCS also said North Korea's latest short-range ballistic missile launch was from the Sunan area in Pyongyang at 1:49 a.m. Friday. It flew some 700 kilometers at an apogee of 50 km and a top speed of about Mach 6.

Later Friday afternoon, North Korea fired another 390 artillery shells into the eastern and western buffer zones north of the NLL. This included some 90 artillery shells into the East Sea from Jangjon in Kangwon Province between 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. and another 90 and 210 shells from the Yellow Sea between 5:20 p.m. and 7 p.m.
However, they didn't land in South Korean waters, according to the JCS.

The South Korean military issues several warnings to halt the provocations immediately.  
South Korea's Defense Ministry sent North Korea a message through its western military communication line asking it not to violate the inter-Korean military agreement again, while the JCS issued a statement criticizing the artillery firing as a violation of UN Security Council resolutions.  
President Yoon Suk-yeol told reporters Friday that the artillery shots were "a violation of the Sept. 19 military agreement" between the two Koreas and stressed a tight readiness posture against North Korea's provocations.  
He hinted that his administration was reviewing the effectiveness of the military agreement and said, "We are reviewing each and every one of them," referring to violations of the 2018 military accord.

"If the enemy strikes first, no country can guarantee 100 percent interception and preemptive response," said Yoon. "However, the massive punishment and retaliation strategy, the final stage of our three-axis strategy, would offer a considerable psychological and social deterrence [for the North] when deciding to advance a war."

He was referring to South Korea's thee-axis system comprised of the Kill Chain pre-emptive strike system; the Korean Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) system; and the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation (KMPR) program, which would target individuals in North Korea's leadership and military command.

The National Security Council (NSC) held a meeting chaired by Kim Sung-han, director of the National Security Office (NSO), and "strongly condemned" the escalation of military tensions in a statement Friday.

The council said the artillery shots within the maritime buffer zone "were in violation of the Sept. 19 military agreement and threatened flights" in the region and warned the North against "hostile acts using [South Korean] regular artillery drills as a pretext."  
The council stressed that North Korea's provocations will have "consequences" and said it will work with the United States, Japan and the international community on a response.  
This marks the first instance of a violation of the inter-Korean military agreement in some two and a half years. The last time was when the North fired gunshots at a South Korean guard post in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in Gangwon in May 2020.  
Despite continued nuclear and missile threats made by the North, neither Korea has made an explicit declaration to officially abandon the 2018 comprehensive military agreement, and some analysts say that Pyongyang may be intentionally trying to violate the pact to induce the South Korea government to break it first.  
If South Korea decides to scrap the agreement, this could allow Pyongyang to blame the escalation of tensions on Seoul and Washington.  
On Saturday, a spokesman for the General Staff of the North Korean People's Army said in a statement that its eastern and western units conducted "warning fires of multiple rocket launchers into the East Sea and West Sea of Korea" as a countermeasure to the "movement of the enemy" on Friday.

In an English-language statement, the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported, "The counter-demonstration fire conducted by the frontline units of our forces in the afternoon of October 14 is aimed at sending another clear warning to the deliberate repeated provocation by the enemies in the front areas."

It added that its army "will never allow any provocation by the enemies escalating the military tension on the Korean Peninsula but take thorough and overwhelming military countermeasures" and warned that South Korea's military "would be well advised to stop at once its reckless provocation inciting the military tension" on the borders.  
"Whether the [2018 inter-Korean military] agreement is maintained depends entirely on North Korea's attitude," a senior presidential official told reporters Sunday.
Rep. Cho Kyoung-tae of the People Power Party (PPP) held a press conference Sunday calling for South Korea to develop nuclear armaments in response to the North's rising threats.  
"To prevent war, we need to prepare for war," said Kim Gi-hyeon, another awmaker from Yoon's PPP who is pushing for the redeployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons or Seoul's developing of its own nuclear armaments.
Lawmakers from the Democratic Party (DP) have also criticized violations of the military agreement but are more cautious about walking away from the pact.  
Separately on Friday, Seoul blacklisted 15 North Korean individuals and 16 institutions involved in the regime's nuclear and missile development programs, the first unilateral sanctions against the regime in five years.

The last sanctions were imposed in December 2017 during the Moon administration following the North's sixth nuclear test.

All 15 North Koreans added to Seoul's blacklist are part of the Second Academy of Natural Sciences Research Institute and trading company Ryonbong, both of which are under UN Security Council sanctions, according to the South's Foreign Ministry.  
The blacklisted institutions included various other trading and shipping companies blamed for assisting the North's research and shipping of goods for weapons of mass destruction.

South Korea's military said it will begin on Monday its annual Hoguk field training exercise to hone its operational capabilities against North Korea's nuclear and missile threats. The exercise, involving the South Korean Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, will run through Oct. 28 and will also involve some U.S. troops. 

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