North and South Korea stand their ground as deadline looms

South Korean soldiers stand guard at a checkpoint on the Grand Unification Bridge which leads to the truce village Panmunjom, just south of the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju. (Reuters)

North Korea has placed its troops on a war footing on Friday as South Korea rejected an ultimatum to stop propaganda broadcasts or face military action, prompting China to voice concern and urge both sides to step back.

South Korean Vice Defense Minister Baek Seung-joo said his government expected the North to fire at some of the 11 sites where Seoul has set up loudspeakers on its side of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the countries.

The South earlier rejected an ultimatum that it halt anti-Pyongyang broadcasts by Saturday afternoon or face attack.

The North’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement the military and the public stood ready to safeguard its regime even if it meant fighting an all-out war, and it rejected the idea of restraint in an apparent rebuff of China’s calls.

Official media said Pyongyang’s military was not bluffing.

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China, which remains reclusive North Korea’s main economic backer despite diminished political clout to influence

Pyongyang, said it was deeply concerned about the escalation of tension and called for calm from both sides.

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 in clashes, yet the two sides have always pulled back from all-out war.

The latest 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 Korean navy ship, which Seoul blames on Pyongyang.

Park canceled an event on Friday and made a visit to a military command post, dressed in army camouflage.

Both sides traded harsh rhetoric late into Friday night.

The North committed “cowardly criminal acts,” South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo said. “This time, I will make sure to sever the vicious cycle of North Korea’s provocations.”

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:46 - GMT 06:46
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