North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered his troops onto a war footing from 5 p.m on Friday after his government issued an ultimatum to Seoul to halt anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts by Saturday afternoon or face military action.
South Korean Vice Defense Minister Baek Seung-joo said it was likely the North would fire at some of the 11 sites where the loudspeakers are set up on the South’s side of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the countries.
Tension escalated on Thursday when North Korea fired four shells into South Korea, according to Seoul, in apparent protest against the broadcasts. The South fired back 29 artillery shells. Pyongyang accused the South of inventing a pretext to fire into the North.
Both sides said there were no casualties or damage in their territory, an indication that the rounds were just warning shots.
“The fact that both sides’ shells didn’t damage anything means they did not want to spread an armed clash. There is always a chance for war, but that chance is very, very low,” said Yang Moo-jin, professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
Since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, Pyongyang and Seoul have often exchanged threats, and dozens of soldiers have been killed, yet the two sides have always pulled back from all-out war.
But the renewed hostility is a further blow to South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s efforts to improve North-South ties, which have been virtually frozen since the deadly 2010 sinking of a South…