North Korea has ratcheted up war rhetoric against South Korea as the two nations traded artillery fire across the inter-Korea border Saturday. The South's troops are on full alert as the North's attack deadline looms.
According to North Korean officials, the situation on the inter-Korean border is "hardly controllable." The North Korean People's Army (KPA) said Saturday its frontline troops were now in a "fully armed wartime state."
South Korea has refused to give in to an ultimatum from Pyongyang that Seoul stop its anti-North propaganda broadcasts by Saturday afternoon (08:30 UTC) or face a military attack.
"Our military and people are prepared to risk their lives in an all-out war to defend the system our people chose," South Korea's foreign ministry said.
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 South Korean soldiers. He warned that should North Korean leader 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."
"The situation has reached the brink of war," the North Korean foreign ministry said in a statement early Saturday.
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 the communist country. After this incident, South Korean President Park Geun-hye's attempts at improving ties have come to an almost complete standstill.
shs, es/ng (AFP, dpa, Reuters)