South Korea Fires Warning Shots After Third Border Breach by North’s Troops

(Bloomberg) -- South Korean soldiers fired warning shots after North Korean troops crossed the border and then retreated, in the third such incident this month on the heavily armed peninsula.

Most Read from Bloomberg

Several North Koreans working within the Demilitarized Zone buffer that separates the two countries crossed into South Korea’s territory on Thursday and retreated after being warned verbally, which was followed by the warning shots, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a message sent to reporters Friday.

The incident took place hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin wrapped up his first visit to North Korea in 24 years, where he and Kim Jong Un reached a major deal through which the countries would come to each other’s aid if attacked.

Tensions along the border dividing the peninsula were on the rise even before Putin’s visit. North Korea has been sending large numbers of troops into the buffer zone area in recent months for activities such as planting mines, setting up anti-tank barriers and repairing roads, the South Korean military said.

Last month, North Korea began sending hundreds of balloons carrying trash over the border after complaining about South Korea conducting surveillance flights. South Korea, in response, suspended a 2018 agreement with North Korea aimed at reducing military tensions.

Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korea’s leader, on Friday indicated Pyongyang could send more trash balloons across the border after activists led by defectors living in South Korea flew propaganda leaflets north by balloons. Millions of leaflets sent by South Korean activists and defectors from North Korea have flown across the border for more than a decade, bearing messages critical of North Korea’s leaders.

“Disgusting North Korean trash defectors didn’t hide that they sent leaflets across our border,” she said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency. ”Obviously, they did something they were not told to, so it is only natural they will be faced with work they need not do.”

The two Koreas position hundreds of thousands of troops and the bulk of their firepower near the border. The recent tit-for-tat reprisals raise the risks for a small incident to escalate quickly, and possibly involve the some 28,500 US military personnel stationed in South Korea.

The actual border known as the Military Demarcation Line sits within the 4-kilometer (2.5-mile) wide Demilitarized Zone buffer that divides the peninsula. While the DMZ is easy to spot with its rows of razor-wire fencing, the MDL is more difficult to identify, as it is mostly marked by chest-high signs that can often be set far apart.

--With assistance from Soo-Hyang Choi and Seyoon Kim.

(Updates with statement from North Korea in paragraphs 6-7.)

Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.