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US monitoring North Korea moving rocket launchers to border, report says

The Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK), also, North Korea, People's Army guards march in formation in the Panmunjom Joint Security Area. (TSGT James Mossman/U.S. Air Force)
March 23, 2021

U.S. and South Korean military officials are closely monitoring North Korea after detecting signs that it’s moving multiple rocket launchers to a western island near its southern border, according to new reports this week.

Sources for South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency said there have been “multiple signs” North Korea is moving launchers and other weapons onto the inter-Korean border islet of Changrin. On Tuesday, South Korean Joint Chiefs of Command spokesperson Col. Kim Jun-rak told reporters, “Our military has been closely tracking and monitoring North Korea’s military moves, while the South Korean and the U.S. intelligence authorities have been maintaining a close cooperation.”

He said, “Leaving all possibilities open, we maintain a readiness posture.”

Changrin is located just north of the Northern Limit Line (NLL), a disputed maritime demarcation line that extends off the western coast of the Korean peninsula from Korean land demarcation line on the demilitarized zone (DMZ). Changrin is about 45 kilometers from the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong.

A military officer who spoke with Yonhap News said signs of new military activity on Changrin were detected months ago, but the island has been used in the past by North Korea’s military, including to house troops and coastal guns.

Officials are raising the warning a week after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, threatened the U.S. to end military drills with South Korea, which this year have only been conducted through computer simulations. She said, if the U.S. under President Joe Biden’s leadership “wants to sleep in peace for the coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step.”

Two days after Kim’s remarks, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin held a joint press conference with South Korean officials in which he said, “Our force remains ready to fight tonight.”

Changrin previously hosted artillery firing drills involving coastal guns in November 2019, but the deployment of multiple rocket launchers may pose an even greater threat, according to Yonhap News.

The South Korean defense ministry said the North Korean activity is in violation of a 2018 inter-Korean military agreement, meant to reduce military activity along the border between the two Koreas.

The agreement between the two Koreas, known as the Comprehensive Military Agreement (CMA), included the creation of buffer zones along the land, sea and air borders, where neither country would engage in acts that could be seen as hostile by the other side. The CMA came about amid Korean denuclearization efforts brought about under former President Donald Trump.

Denuclearization talks stalled in 2019 and North Korea eventually imposed a 2019 year-end deadline to reach a deal or cut off talks. The deadline has since lapsed and efforts to restart talks have not been successful.

Last week, North Korea said the U.S. had tried to contact the country’s leaders on multiple occasions since mid-February, but said it didn’t respond to what the Pyongyang government views as another “delaying-time trick.”

North Korean Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Choe Son Hui also said, “We have already declared our stand that no DPRK-U.S. contact and dialogue of any kind can be possible unless the U.S. rolls back its hostile policy towards the DPRK.” Choe’s comments come after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized North Korea for human rights abuses.