On March 11, as the United States and South Korea began their annual joint military exercises, the government of North Korea responded by cutting off the telephone “hot line” between the two Koreas at the border city of Panmunjom. The Pyongyang regime also waged a propaganda barrage through its state-controlled press. The Wall Street Journal noted that a report in Rodong Sinmun (the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea — the ruling political party of the communist state) said that the 1953 armistice suspending the Korean War had been "declared invalid."
South Korea's unification ministry reported on Monday that the North did not answer two attempts to communicate by telephone at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. local time, reported the Yonhap News Agency.
CNN reported that latest joint U.S.-South Korean military drills, known as "Key Resolve," follow the "Foal Eagle" joint exercises that began March 1. The exercises, which are scheduled to last two months, include more than 3,000 U.S. personnel. Both operations are annual events and have regularly been a source of friction with the North.
A spokeswoman for South Korea's Unification Ministry said that the latest crisis is more tense than usual, saying: "Overall, there's a heightened sense of alert this time."
BBC News attributed the heightened tensions not only to the "more belligerent rhetoric" coming from Pyongyang, but because of a series of recent events, noting that “North Korea's launch of a long-range rocket in December, its apparently successful nuclear test in February and the fresh UN sanctions imposed on it this month have all added to the sense of tension on the peninsula.”
South Korea’s daily newspaper, em>The Hankyoreh, painted today’s crisis in grim terms, reporting that “many observers are voicing growing fears of a potential clash.” The paper noted:
The belligerent conditions date back to March 12, 1993, when North Korea responded to International Atomic Energy Agency demands for special inspections by pulling out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Almost twenty years to the day later, both sides are once again issuing rhetoric about “unsparing retribution” and “annihilating the other side’s regime.”
The Hankyoreh reported that North Korea’s chairman of its Joint Chiefs of Staff , Hyon Yong-chol, had accompanied military officials on a March 9 inspection of Panmunjom, and that the following day, North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun reported that the country’s army, navy, air force, and anti-aircraft units were “just waiting for the final order to attack.”
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Photo: North Korean flag