North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has ordered his frontline troops on the country’s heavily armed border with South Korea to be ready for war, a day after North and South Korea exchanged artillery fire.
Speaking at an emergency meeting of his Central Military Commission, Mr. Kim ordered soldiers to enter a "fully armed state of war” and be fully ready for any military operations starting Friday evening, according to Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency, the Los Angeles Times reported.
On Friday, North Korea also warned Seoul that it would take “military action” if the South did not halt its anti-Pyongyang border broadcasts by 5 p.m. Saturday, according to South Korean media.
South Korea recently restarted its border broadcast for the first time in 11 years. In 2004, both countries reached an agreement to dismantle their propaganda loudspeakers at the border.
But on Aug 10, in an apparent reaction to the maiming of two South Korean soldiers by a land mine explosion in the demilitarized zone between the two nations, South Korea restarted its broadcasting, the BBC reported. Seoul says North Korean soldiers sneaked across the border and planted the mines.
North Korea retaliated by broadcasting propaganda from its own loudspeakers, and on Thursday both sides exchanged fire across the border.
The same day, a total of about 2,000 residents along the border were evacuated. On Friday, according to officials, all returned home, The Associated Press reported.
The BBC's South Korea correspondent Steve Evans says that although this ritual of aggression often sees such language escalate to the firing of ammunition, this time the rhetoric is fiercer.
And John Delury, a professor at Seoul's Yonsei University, told the Los Angeles Times that Kim’s order “is a strange concept because North Korea lives in a sort of perpetual quasi state of war, though this could be significant as it's directed at the troops, not the whole country.”
The two Koreas remain technically at war, since the 1950-1953 war ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.
Tensions have been on the rise between two countries, especially after South Korea began its annual large-scale joint military exercises with the United States on Monday.
The military exercises are still ongoing, despite protests from Pyongyang, which called the annual drills a rehearsal for an invasion. Last week, North Korea threatened Seoul with war over the military exercises.
Any escalation of tensions between the Koreas is a risk, according to The Associated Press, since after two attacks in 2010 that killed 50 south Koreans and was blamed on Pyongyang, Seoul warned that any future North Korean attack could trigger strikes by South Korea that are three times as large.
Currently, about 28,500 US soldiers are deployed in South Korea to deter any potential aggression from North Korea.