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South lodges complaint to North

Follows Pyongyang’s firing drill in violation of military agreement
Nov 27,2019
South Korean military officials said Tuesday they lodged a formal complaint to the North through an inter-Korean communication channel protesting Pyongyang’s violation of a bilateral military agreement from the day before.

Choi Hyun-soo, spokesperson of Seoul’s Ministry of National Defense, told reporters in a media briefing Tuesday that the South “strongly protested” to the North that morning via a military communication channel connecting both Koreas on their west coast that faces the Yellow Sea.

Choi said Seoul plans to continuously complain to Pyongyang if the regime violates their military agreement again, adding that the South will keep close tabs on the North through “surveillance activities.”

A ministry official said the South “verbally” protested to the North on Tuesday morning and also “faxed” a complaint through the military communication line, warning the North to refrain from taking any actions that could raise military tensions near the border. How the North reacted was not disclosed.

Seoul on Monday accused the North of “violating” an inter-Korean military agreement by recently conducting an artillery firing drill on an islet just north of the countries’ maritime border in the Yellow Sea, saying through Choi that it felt “regretful” about Pyongyang’s breach.

Without revealing when the drill actually took place, Choi explained in a media briefing that the regime shouldn’t have carried out the drill on Changrin Islet in accordance to the Comprehensive Military Agreement signed between the two Koreas on Sept. 19, 2018, because the area is part of a larger buffer zone in which both countries agreed not to fire any artillery or conduct field training exercises.

Choi’s statement on Monday came shortly after the North, earlier that day, revealed through its state-run media that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un personally “gave an order to fire” during a visit to Changrin Islet. The North also did not explain when the visit took place.

A South Korean military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity Tuesday said it appeared the North’s drill took place on Saturday morning because that’s when the South Korean military detected “an unidentified sound source” from that area. Local authorities were said to be analyzing the sound.

After North Korean media reported on Kim’s visit to the islet on Monday, the South concluded the sounds were from coastal artillery firing rounds, the South Korean military official said.

Both Seoul’s Defense Ministry and North Korean media reports did not specify what kinds of artillery were used in the drill on Monday, or toward which direction they were fired.

During the third summit between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Pyongyang late last year, the two Koreas’ defense ministers signed an agreement that partially read both countries will create a 135-kilometer-wide (83.8-mile-wide) buffer zone in the disputed Yellow Sea, in which artillery firing and field training exercises were prohibited by either side.

The area, in effect, was to become a “sea of peace.”

Both sides also agreed to put covers on coastal artillery based in the zone and on gun barrels of ships traveling through it to prevent accidental armed clashes.

Vincent Brooks, former commander of the U.S. Forces Korea, told the Voice of America on Monday that North Korea’s drill was “just the first of many more violations to come” - and why it’s a “great reason” to resume bilateral exercises between the South and the United States.

“It could be a signal that they no longer respect the Comprehensive Military Agreement,” said Brooks.

“I wish we no longer consider adjustments to exercises since it is clear that North Korea is not concerned about that,” he said. “So this is a good reason to confirm an exercise in February or March timeframe in direct response to this, and I would suggest South Korea and U.S. do that soon.”

BY LEE KEUN-PYUNG, LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]