, SEOUL, Aug 24 – South Korean troops stood at maximum alert Saturday, hours before the expiry of a North Korean ultimatum for Seoul to halt loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts across the border or face military action.
The North Korean People’s Army (KPA) said its frontline troops had moved into a “fully armed, wartime state” in line with the wishes of leader Kim Jong-Un and ahead of the Saturday 5:00 pm (0830 GMT) deadline.
“The situation which has reached the brink of war is now hardly controllable,” the foreign ministry in Pyongyang warned in a statement early Saturday.
The international community has long experience of North Korea’s particularly aggressive brand of diplomatic brinkmanship and, while there is concern over the potential for escalation, many see the situation as another exercise in attention-seeking by Pyongyang.
“Given their past negotiating style and tactics, the likelihood that they will follow through with their threat of a military action is low,” said James Kim, a research fellow at the Asan Institute think-tank in Seoul.
At the same time, Kim acknowledged that second-guessing Pyongyang’s game plan was always risky, and the possibility of a North Korean strike of some sort could not be ruled out.
“We are ready to respond strongly to any North Korean provocation,” said the South’s presidential spokeswoman.
The Yonhap news agency quoted military sources as saying the North had towed artillery units close to the border for a possible strike against the military loudspeaker units that have been blasting high-decibel propaganda into North Korea for the past week.
The sources also said eight US and South Korean fighter jets had carried out simulated bombing runs on a flight path that would “alarm North Korea.”