May 28, 2009 07:36
The South Korean military is on alert after North Korea on Wednesday warned it cannot guarantee safe passage for South Korean and U.S. ships in the West Sea and will no longer respect the armistice agreement. The saber rattling apparently comes in protest against South Korea's decision to join the Proliferation Security Initiative, a U.S.-led anti-proliferation regime.
The most likely place where North Korea could carry out provocations is in waters near the Northern Limit Line, the de facto maritime border in the West Sea. The Panmunjom mission of the North Korean Army also hinted in a statement Wednesday at the possibility of provocations along the NLL near the five islands.
South Korean military authorities speculate that the North could fire surface-to-ship or ship-to-ship missiles or shells from a west coast artillery battery, send gunboats to clash with South Korean vessels, or send fighter jets to fly close to the NLL.
North Korea fired five short-range missiles from the east coast on Monday and Tuesday, four of which reportedly were surface-to-ship missiles, including the KN-01 with a range of 160 km. The North Korean military staged 19 firing exercises firing a total of 1,000 shells in waters near Daesuap Island on the northern side of Yeonpyeong Island since early this year.
The South Korean military is most concerned about illegal fishing near the NLL by Chinese fishing boats. Currently, some 300 Chinese fishing boats are engaged in illegal fishing in waters off Yeonpyeong and Daecheong islands near the NLL. The military speculates that more Chinese fishing boats will arrive, with about 2 more tons of fish expected to be caught than last year.
The North could also heighten tensions by sending fighter jets near the NLL or the demilitarized zone. The frequency of North Korean fighter drills above the west coast has increased six times over last year.
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