North Korea stages second incursion into DMZ

April 6, 1996
Web posted at: 11:45 a.m. EST

SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- Tensions escalated between North and South Korea Saturday as North Korea, for the second day in a row, moved troops into the Demilitarized Zone separating the two countries. South Korea's president put his troops on heightened alert.

About 260 North Korean soldiers staged an incursion Saturday into the DMZ but later withdrew, a South Korean defense ministry spokesman said. He said the soldiers carrying heavy weapons were driven into the Panmunjom border crossing area within the buffer zone in a convoy of trucks.

"They did nothing while they were within the area. We regard it as just a demonstration," the spokesman said.

United Nations officials continued to reacted calmly to the troop movements.

The border

The 2.5-mile DMZ is a key element in the 1953 armistice agreement that ended the Korean War. It was created as a buffer between the two countries to prevent military confrontation.

Saturday's troop movement was the second violation of the armistice agreement in two days. Friday, approximately 120 North Korean soldiers moved into the DMZ with weapons. They later withdrew, according to the U.N. Command, which is monitoring the situation. The armistice agreement permits no more than 35 soldiers per side to enter the area at any one time.

Kim Young Sam

Thursday, North Korea announced that it would no longer recognize the DMZ.

In response to the violations, South Korea President Kim Young-sam convened a meeting Saturday of his security chiefs.

"As North Korea recently overtly threatened provocation, we should have a heightened, iron-tight defense," a presidential spokesman quoted Kim as saying at the meeting.

U.N. sees no cause for alarm

The United Nations Command did not appear alarmed.


""While this is a serious violation of the armistice agreement, we do not view it with particular alarm as the (North Koreans) have conducted this sort of illegal training activity in the past," said U.N. Command spokesman Col. John Reitz. (150K AIFF sound or 150K WAV sound)

North Korea refused to discuss the incident with the U.N. Command, and justified its action as proper training exercises.

A Pyongyang newspaper called North Korea's actions self- defensive. It said the Korean peninsula was seen to be on the eve of war.

But a North Korean official at the United Nation's office in New York, told Japan's Kyodo news agency that Pyongyang's withdrawal from the armistice is aimed at replacing it with a peace treaty and is not a sign of war. No formal peace treaty was ever signed after the Korean War.

All quiet on the DMZ front

While the political rhetoric was running high between the two Koreas, the sense of urgency was lacking in Imjingak, the last civilian headquarters before the DMZ.

Buses filled with tourists from Korea and overseas continue to enter the area, and the U.N. command says it's business as usual in the DMZ.

Analysts say North Korea's moves reflect Pyongyang's continued effort to dismantle the armistice and could be interpreted as saber-rattling in advance of U.S. President Bill Clinton's visit to South Korea on April 16.

The incident also happened a day after North Korea renewed calls for food aid talks with the South. Thousands in Korea are said to be on the brink of starvation.

In Washington, White House officials said Saturday they are monitoring the situation in the DMZ but there does not appear to be any reason for concern.

An administration source told CNN that the movement of armed North Koreans into the DMZ appears to be a follow up to the actions of North Korea a couple of days ago, when North Korean soldiers assigned to duty in the DMZ removed the arm bands required by the armistice agreement to designate their role there.

CNN Correspondents Sohn Jie Ae and Carl Rochelle and Reuter news agency contributed to this report.


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