Seoul has been defiant in the face of an ultimatum from Pyongyang over its propaganda broadcasts at the border between the two countries. The escalation has the region worried it will spill over into renewed violence.
South Korea stood its ground on Friday, refusing to give in to an ultimatum from Pyongyang that Seoul stop its anti-North propaganda by Saturday afternoon or face military consequences. In response, North Korea announced that its soldiers would be standing at the ready for deployment.
Han Minkoo, South Korea's defense minister, defended the broadcasts, which only recently started up again after a break of 11 years, saying it was a valid response to a landmine in the border area that killed two of their soldiers. He further warned that should Kim Jong Un pursue provocation, his nation would face "searing" consequences.
The tension which was already near a boiling point over the broadcasts and the soldiers' deaths reached fever pitch on Thursday when North Korea fired four shells over the border. Overnight, a senior military official from Pyongyang said Kim had "reviewed and approved the final attack operation."
While the North declined to elaborate on what form the "attack" would take, the deputy defense minister in Seoul, Baek Seung-joo, said it was likely that they would fire at some of the 11 sites along the southern side of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the two countries where they have set up loudspeakers for their broadcasts.
Neighboring China is "deeply concerned" about the situation, the foreign ministry said on Friday, calling for restraint as the sides traded artillery fire. Since the Korean War ended in a truce in 1953, but not a formal peace treaty, threats and small amounts of violence have been a common occurrence.
The renewed hostility stems from a 2010 sinking of a South Korean navy vessel, which Seoul says was the work of Pyongyang. After this incident, South Korean President Park Geun-hye's attempts at improving ties have come to an almost complete standstill.
es/kms (AP, Reuters)