April 6, 1996 in Nation/World

N. Korea Moves Into Panmunjom South Korea Puts Its Forces On Highest Alert In 15 Years

Ju-Yeon Kim Associated Press

A day after apparently dismissing the armistice with South Korea, North Korea moved armed soldiers into Panmunjom, the demilitarized-zone village where the enemies hold their uneasy meetings, the U.S. State Department said Friday.

South Korea put its military on its highest state of alert in 15 years Friday, following a North Korean statement Thursday indicating it no longer recognized the demilitarized zone that has separated the two sides since the 1953 truce in the Korean War.

The Defense Ministry said it was stepping up air, naval and ground patrols, and increasing the number of troops on emergency standby.

Both U.S. and South Korean forces have placed themselves on a “higher state of surveillance,” State Department spokesman Glyn Davies said in Washington.

North Korea’s deployment of armed troops in Panmunjom violates the regulations for the joint security area, Davies said, although it was not unprecedented.

“It doesn’t indicate that the threat of hostilities has increased,” he said.

The United Nations Command in Seoul said in a statement that “the North Korean People’s Army introduced soldiers and weapons in excess of the number and kinds authorized by the Armistice Agreement.”

The incident appears to have been part of a training maneuver, it said.

“While this is a serious violations of the Armistice Agreement, we do not view it with particular alarm,” it said.

The UNC will attempt to contact North Korea later Saturday regarding the buildup, the statement said.

The heightened state of alert in South Korea primarily affects military intelligence and other units assigned to watch for any massing of North Korean troops and arms along the demilitarized zone.

No major troop movements are involved, and most of the 37,000 American military personnel in South Korea would not be affected, said Jim Coles, a spokesman for both American and U.N. forces in Seoul.

Beyond that, neither the Defense Ministry nor the U.S. military would comment on specific security measures.

The Defense Ministry said North Korea’s latest action “is an almost complete abrogation of the armistice, and different from its previous moves to discredit it.

“It looks as if North Korea is looking for an excuse to step up military provocation,” the ministry said in its statement announcing the security upgrade.

In Washington, Davies said, “It’s very important that North Korea abide by its responsibilities and avoid provocative actions.”

North Korea announced Thursday that it would “give up its duty” of jointly controlling the 2.5-mile-wide demilitarized zone separating it from South Korea. North Korea did not explain what it meant.

It said the action was in response to South Korea moving personnel, tanks, artillery and other heavy arms into the demilitarized zone in violation of the armistice. South Korea denies that.

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