South Korea on Monday restarted propaganda broadcasts across the border with rival North Korea for the first time in 11 years in a move the Seoul government said was retaliation for the North planting land mines that maimed two South Korean soldiers.
The anti-North Korean broadcasts over loudspeakers aimed across the world's most heavily armed border are sure to worsen already terrible ties between the Koreas and infuriate the North, which is extremely sensitive to any outside criticism of the authoritarian leadership of Kim Jong Un.
South Korea's military earlier Monday promised unspecified “searing” consequences for the mine blasts last week in the Seoul-controlled southern part of the demilitarized zone that has bisected the Korean Peninsula since the end of fighting in the Korean War in 1953. South Korean officials said they may take additional punitive measures depending on how North Korea reacts. It was unclear how long the broadcasts will continue.
The U.S.-led U.N. Command conducted an investigation that blamed North Korea for the mines. It condemned what it called violations of the armistice that ended fighting in the war, which still technically continues because the participants have never signed a peace treaty.
The soldiers were on a routine patrol near a wire fence on the southern side of the border when the explosions happened, officials said. One of the soldiers lost both legs; the other lost one leg.
In an effort to reduce tension, the two Koreas in 2004 stopped the decades-long practice of propaganda warfare along the border. The practice had included loudspeaker and radio broadcasts, billboards and leaflets.
In 2010, Seoul restarted radio broadcasts and restored 11 loudspeakers as part of punitive measures launched after it blamed North Korea for the sinking of a South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors earlier that year. But South Korea didn't go ahead with plans to resume loudspeaker broadcasts at that time.
On Monday, South Korea conducted loudspeaker broadcasts in the western and center portions of the border, said Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok. He said the broadcasts emphasized that the mine explosions were a provocation by the North.
South Korean defense officials earlier said the military planned to use two of the 11 restored loudspeakers. In the past, propaganda broadcasts have typically blared messages about alleged North Korean government mismanagement, human rights conditions, the superiority of South Korean-style democracy as well as world news and weather forecasts.
More than 1 million mines are believed to be buried inside the demilitarized zone, and North Korean mines have occasionally washed down a swollen river into the South, killing or injuring civilians. But North Korean soldiers crossing the border and planting mines is highly unusual.
Investigations by South Korea and the U.N. Command showed that splinters from the explosions were from wood box mines used by North Korea, according to South Korea's Defense Ministry.
South Korean officials say there's no chance that old mines had dislodged and drifted to the South because of rain or shifting soil. The area where the soldiers were patrolling is on higher ground than the places where North Korean mines have been previously planted, meaning the recent mines must have been purposely laid there by the North, chief South Korean investigator Ahn Young-ho told reporters.
A senior South Korean military officer, Ku Hongmo, said Seoul believes that North Korean soldiers secretly crossed the border and laid mines between July 23 and Aug. 3, the day before the three mines exploded. But he said surveillance cameras in the area did not detect any suspicious North Korean activities, apparently because of bad weather and forest cover.
The explosions come amid continuing bad feelings between the rival Koreas over the establishment of a U.N. office in Seoul tasked with investigating the North's human rights record. North Korea also refuses to release several South Koreans it has detained. Things are expected to get worse next week when Seoul and Washington launch annual summertime military drills, which the allies say are routine but North Korea calls an invasion rehearsal.