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Seoul Takes Hard Line as Talks Between Rival Koreas Drag On

Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea’s president vowed a hard line on Monday as marathon negotiations between senior officials of the two Koreas stretched into a third day in an attempt to defuse a crisis that had the rivals threatening war.

President Park Geun-hye said that without a clear North Korean apology for a land mine attack that maimed two soldiers, the anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts that infuriate the North will continue. Her strong words provide a good hint at why the talks, which started Saturday evening and whose second session began Sunday afternoon and was still continuing more than 28 hours later, have dragged on.

Both sides want to find a face-saving way to avoid an escalation that could lead to bloodshed, especially the North, which is outmatched militarily by Seoul and its ally, the United States.

But authoritarian Pyongyang must also show its people that it is standing up to bitter enemy Seoul. Pyongyang has denied involvement in the land mine explosions and also rejected Seoul’s report that Pyongyang launched an artillery barrage last week — so winning an apology will be difficult work. The North, for its part, demands that Seoul stop the propaganda broadcasts started in retaliation for the land mine attack.

For now, the attempt at diplomacy has pushed aside previous heated warnings of imminent war, but South Korea’s military said North Korea has continued to prepare for a fight, moving unusual numbers of troops and submarines to the border.

These are the highest-level talks between the two Koreas in a year. And just the fact that senior officials from countries that have spent recent days vowing to destroy each other are sitting together at a table in Panmunjom, the border enclave where the 1953 armistice ending fighting in the Korean War was agreed to, is something of a victory.

The length of the talks and the lack of immediate progress are not unusual. While the Koreas often have difficulty agreeing to talks, once they do, overlong sessions are often the rule. After decades of animosity and bloodshed, however, finding common ground is much harder.

President Park said during a meeting with top aides that Seoul would not “stand down even if North Korea ratchets up provocation to its highest level and threatens our national security.”

She said Seoul needs “a definite apology” and a promise that such provocations would not recur.

The decision to hold talks came hours ahead of a Saturday deadline set by North Korea for the South to dismantle the propaganda loudspeakers. North Korea had declared that its front-line troops were in full war readiness and prepared to go to battle if Seoul did not back down.

South Korea said that even as the North was pursuing dialogue, its troops were preparing for battle.

An official from Seoul’s Defense Ministry said about 70 percent of the North’s more than 70 submarines and undersea vehicles had left their bases and were undetectable by the South Korean military as of Saturday. The official, who refused to be named because of official rules, also said the North had doubled the strength of its front-line artillery forces since the start of the talks Saturday evening.

South Korean military officials wouldn’t confirm or deny a Yonhap news agency report, citing unidentified military sources, that said North Korea had moved toward the border about 10 hovercraft used for landings by special operation forces in the event of a war.

The standoff started with the explosions of land mines on the southern side of the Demilitarized Zone between the Koreas that Seoul says were planted by North Korea. In response, the South resumed anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts for the first time in 11 years, infuriating the North, which is extremely sensitive to any criticism of its authoritarian system. Analysts say the North fears that the broadcasts could demoralize its front-line troops and inspire them to defect.

On Thursday, South Korea’s military fired dozens of artillery rounds across the border in response to what Seoul said were North Korean artillery strikes meant to back up an earlier threat to attack the loudspeakers.

A Defense Ministry official said the South continued the anti-Pyongyang broadcasts even after the start of the talks Saturday and also after the second session began Sunday. He said Seoul would decide after the talks whether to halt the broadcasts.

While the meeting offered a way for the rivals to avoid an immediate collision, South Korea probably can’t afford to walk away with a weak agreement after it openly vowed to stem a “vicious cycle” of North Korean provocations amid public anger over the land mines, said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Seoul’s Dongguk University.

At the meeting, South Korea’s presidential national security director, Kim Kwan-jin, and Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo sat down with Hwang Pyong So, the top political officer for the Korean People’s Army, and Kim Yang Gon, a senior North Korean official responsible for South Korean affairs. Hwang is considered by outside analysts to be North Korea’s second most important official after supreme leader Kim Jong-un.

In Pyongyang, North Korean state media reported that more than 1 million young people have volunteered to join or rejoin the military to defend their country should a conflict break out.

Despite such highly charged rhetoric, which is not particularly unusual, activity in the North’s capital remained calm on Sunday, with people going about their daily routines. Truckloads of soldiers singing martial songs could occasionally be seen driving around the city, and a single minivan with camouflage netting was parked near the main train station.

Associated Press writers Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul and Eric Talmadge in Pyongyang contributed to this report.


Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Featured image via AP Video (screenshot)

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President Park Geun-hye (C, front) visits the headquarters of Third Army in the city of Yongin, just south of Seoul, on Aug. 21, 2015, amid heightened tensions raised by the two Koreas' shelling across the inter-Korean border the previous day, in this photo released by the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae

North Korea Warns of War With South After Artillery Fire

Pictured above: President Park Geun-hye visits the headquarters of Third Army in the city of Yongin, just south of Seoul, on Aug. 21, 2015, amid heightened tensions raised by the two Koreas’ shelling across the inter-Korean border the previous day. (Photo courtesy of the Blue House/Yonhap)

Associated Press

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Friday declared his front-line troops in a “quasi-state of war” and ordered them to prepare for battle a day after the most serious confrontation between the rivals in years.

South Korea’s military on Thursday fired dozens of artillery rounds across the border in response to what Seoul said were North Korean artillery strikes meant to back up a threat to attack loudspeakers broadcasting anti-Pyongyang propaganda.

The spike in tensions prompted the U.S. and South Korea to halt an annual military exercise that began this week, U.S. defense officials said Friday. North Korea had criticized the drills, calling them a preparation for invasion, although the U.S. and South Korea insist they are defensive in nature.

The North’s declaration Friday is similar to its other warlike rhetoric in recent years, including repeated threats to reduce Seoul to a “sea of fire,” and the huge numbers of soldiers and military equipment already stationed along the border mean the area is always essentially in a “quasi-state of war.” Still, the North’s apparent willingness to test Seoul with military strikes and its recent warning of further action raise worries because South Korea has vowed to hit back with overwhelming strength should North Korea attack again.

Pyongyang says it did not fire anything at the South, a claim Seoul dismissed as nonsense.

Kim Jong-un ordered his troops to “enter a wartime state” and be fully ready for any military operations starting Friday evening, according to a report in Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency. The North has also given Seoul a deadline of Saturday evening to remove border loudspeakers that, after a lull of 11 years, have started broadcasting anti-Pyongyang propaganda. Failure, Pyongyang says, will result in further military action. Seoul has vowed to continue the broadcasts.

The North’s media report said that “military commanders were urgently dispatched for operations to attack South Korean psychological warfare facilities if the South doesn’t stop operating them.”

South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency, citing an unidentified government source, reported Friday that South Korean and U.S. surveillance assets detected the movement of vehicles carrying short-range Scud and medium-range Rodong missiles in a possible preparation for launches. South Korea’s Defense Ministry said it could not confirm the report.

North Korea said the South Korean shells fired Thursday landed near four military posts but caused no injuries. No one was reported injured in the South, either, though hundreds were evacuated from front-line towns.

The loudspeaker broadcasts began after South Korea accused the North of planting land mines that maimed two South Korean soldiers earlier this month. North Korea denies this, too.

Authoritarian North Korea, which has also restarted its own propaganda broadcasts, is extremely sensitive to any criticism of its government, run by leader Kim Jong Un, whose family has ruled since the North was founded in 1948. The loudspeaker broadcasts are taken seriously in Pyongyang because the government does not want its soldiers and residents to hear outsiders criticize human rights abuses and economic mismanagement that condemns many to abject poverty, South Korean analysts say.

North Korea on Thursday afternoon first fired a single round believed to be from an anti-aircraft gun, which landed near a South Korean border town, Seoul said. About 20 minutes later, three North Korean artillery shells fell on the southern side of the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas. South Korea responded with dozens of 155-millimeter artillery rounds, according to South Korean defense officials.

South Korea’s military warned Friday that North Korea must refrain from engaging in “rash acts” or face strong punishment, according to South Korea’s Defense Ministry.

South Korea raised its military readiness to its highest level. Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman Jeon Ha-kyu told a televised news conference that South Korea is ready to repel any additional provocation.

Escalation is a risk in any military exchange between the Koreas because after two attacks blamed on Pyongyang killed 50 South Koreans in 2010, South Korea’s military warned that any future North Korean attack could trigger strikes by South Korea that are three times as large.

Many in Seoul are accustomed to ignoring or discounting North Korea’s repeated threats, but the latest have caused worry because of Pyongyang’s warning of strikes if the South doesn’t tear down its loudspeakers by Saturday evening. Observers say the North may need some save-facing measure to back down.

See Also: N. Korea Threatens Strikes Over South’s Propaganda Broadcasts

This is what happened in December 2010, when North Korea backed off an earlier warning of catastrophic retaliation after South Korea defiantly went ahead with live-fire drills near the country’s disputed western sea boundary. A month earlier, when South Korea staged similar drills, the North reacted with an artillery bombardment that killed four people on a South Korean border island. North Korea said it didn’t respond to the second drill because South Korea conducted it in a less provocative way, though the South said both drills were the same.

The rivals also were at odds over the annual U.S.-South Korean military drills that began Monday. U.S. defense officials said the exercise has been halted amid the growing tensions with North Korea.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said the U.S. is monitoring the situation. It was unclear whether the exercise, which was scheduled to end next Friday, would resume.

On Friday, residents evacuated in the South Korean town near where the shell fell, Yeoncheon, returned home, officials said. Yonhap reported that a total of about 2,000 residents along the border were evacuated Thursday.

Pyongyang was mostly business as usual Friday morning, although propaganda vans with loudspeakers broadcast the state media line that the country was in a “quasi-state of war” to people in the streets.

North Korean officials held a pair of rare briefings Friday to try to win support for their country’s ultimatum that South Korea stop anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts by Saturday.

Kim Yong-chol, director of the general reconnaissance bureau of the North Korean army, in what was described as an “emergency situation briefing” for diplomats and military attaches in Pyongyang, said all front-line units are on full war readiness. He gave no details on what kind of military retaliation North Korea would consider appropriate “punishment” for the South.

In Beijing, at the North Korean Embassy, Ambassador Ji Jae Ryong told reporters that South Korea’s psychological warfare had “gone beyond the limits of tolerance.”

South Korea has said the two soldiers wounded in the mine explosions were on a routine patrol in the southern part of the DMZ that separates the two Koreas. One soldier lost both legs and the other one leg.

The Koreas’ mine-strewn DMZ is a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, leaving the Korean Peninsula still technically in a state of war. About 28,500 U.S. soldiers are deployed in South Korea to deter potential aggression from North Korea.

Kim reported from Seoul. AP writers Foster Klug in Seoul, Chris Bodeen in Beijing, and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this story.


Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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View from North to South

North Korean Soldiers Briefly Cross DMZ

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

About 10 North Korean soldiers crossed the military border into South Korea near Cheorwon, Gangwon Province on Saturday morning, but retreated immediately after the South fired warning shots, reported Yonhap News Agency.

According to South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense, the South Korean military warned the North Korean soldiers via speakers to not approach any further after they had crossed the Military Demarcation Line (MDL). Although the North Korean soldiers were armed, they retreated after the South fired warning shots and did not return fire.

This is the first time in 2015 that South Korea has fired warning shots at the heavily armed border. Last October, tensions on the border flared when North Korea shot down anti-Pyongyang propaganda balloons launched by South Korean activists. The South responded by firing 40 rounds of machine guns. At the time, there were no reports of damage or injury. 

Authorities are still investigating what may have prompted the North Korean soldiers from intrude the border. One source told the Joongang Ilbo that there have been signs of the North Korean army increasing reconnaissance and patrols along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

The brief intrusion came on the same day North Korea officially announced Pak Yong-sik as its new defense minister. South Korea’s National Intelligence Service told lawmakers in May that Pak’s predecessor, Hyon Yong-chol, was executed for complaining about Kim Jong-un’s policies and sleeping during a meeting. While North Korea’s state media officially confirmed Hyon’s replacement, it did not verify Hyon’s execution.

See Also


North Korean Soldier Crosses DMZ to Defect to South

Kim Jong-un Has Executed 70 Officials: Seoul


Featured image via Wikimedia Commons

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U.S. Soldier Found Dead at Army Base in South Korea


by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

An American soldier has died during a navigation training exercise in South Korea, the United States Forces Korea said in a statement on Thursday.

According to Reuters, the body of Michael William Corey, an intelligence analyst, was found near the outskirts of Camp Jackson, a U.S. Army base located north of Seoul, on Monday.

The cause of death is unknown and the incident is currently under investigation, the U.S. military said.

Originally from Oro Valley, Ariz., Corey joined the Army last year and was assigned to the 441st Military Intelligence Battalion in Camp Zama in Japan. He was sent to South Korea to participate in the “Warrior Leader Course.”

Since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice, and not a peace treaty, the U.S. has been South Korea’s main military ally for the past few decades. There are about 28,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea.

Camp Jackson is one of the smallest U.S. military installations in South Korea and serves as a training base to U.S. non-commissioned officers, according to Reuters. South Korean soldiers who are proficient in the English language also serve within the Korean Augmentation to the US Army, also known as KATUSA.


Featured image via U.S. Army

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North Korean Soldier Crosses DMZ to Defect to South

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

A teenaged North Korean soldier walked across the heavily mined Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on Monday in a bid to defect to South Korea, the South Korean defense ministry said.

After crossing the 2.5-mile-wide DMZ, the 19-year-old soldier approached a remote South Korean guard post in Gangwon Province’s Hwacheon county at around 8 a.m. on June 15, according to the New York Times. There were no warning shots or exchange of fire, as the solider clearly expressed his wish to defect as he crossed the inter-Korean border, according to defense ministry officials. He is currently being held in custody while South Korean authorities run a background check.

It is extremely rare for defectors to walk across the DMZ, especially since it is heavily fortified with land mines, barbed wire and patrolmen. The last such crossing was back in 2012, when a North Korean serviceman scaled three barbed-wire fences and knocked on the barracks of South Korean border guards. That same year, another North Korean soldier killed two of his commanding officers before crossing the western side of the DMZ.

Most North Korean defectors, many of whom are civilians, usually cross the North Korea-China border and travel through Southeast Asian nations to reach South Korea.

According to South Korea’s unification ministry, the number of North Korean defectors dropped from 2,706 in 2011 to 1,397 last year. So far, 535 North Korean defectors have arrived in South Korea within the past five months of 2015.

In recent weeks, North Korea has been increasing guard patrols along the DMZ in order to prevent defection through the inter-Korean border, according to Yonhap News Agency.

Also on Monday, North Korea said it would release two South Korean detainees who were arrested on May 11 for illegally entering the country through China. South Korea’s unification ministry agreed to the proposal and announced that the two detainees will be received at the truce village of Panmunjom on Wednesday.


Featured image via journeylism.nl

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Live Anthrax Samples “Inadvertently” Distributed to U.S. Labs, S. Korean Air Base

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

A U.S. Army laboratory in Utah inadvertently sent live samples of anthrax to facilities in nine states, as well as an additional sample to a U.S. military base in Osan, South Korea, Pentagon officials said on Thursday.

The Washington Post reported that workers at a facility in Maryland discovered the first live sample after it had arrived from Dugway Proving Ground in Utah on May 22. Pentagon officials said the samples were shipped via a commercial delivery service. Upon further investigation, officials said it was possible the samples in U.S. could have found their way to other government or private facilities.

The Osan Air Base in South Korea said in a statement on Wednesday that 22 personnel may have been exposed to the anthrax and that the base had taken “prudent precautionary measures” to destroy the sample and decontaminate the facility. After a series of examinations, antibiotics and even vaccinations in some cases, the statement added that none of the base’s personnel have shown any signs of possible exposure.

The Pentagon, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Osan Air Base all downplayed the threat, saying there was no threat to the general public in both the U.S. and South Korea. A Pentagon official also confirmed there were no suspected or confirmed cases of anthrax infection among lab workers stateside.

According to the CDC, there are several treatments for anthrax, from antibiotics to antitoxins once the subject is hospitalized. Patients may require “aggressive treatment, such as continuous fluid drainage and help breathing through mechanical ventilation.”

The disease, caused by a bacterium, is spread by spores. Infection can be caused by inhaling or ingesting the spores, or coming into direct contact with diseased flesh or blood, which caused a 2014 outbreak in India that allegedly killed seven people.

Anthrax has also been used in bioterrorism as a biological weapon in powdered and aerosol form. In 2001, several letters containing anthrax spores were went to various media outlets and the offices of two Democratic senators, infecting 22 people (including 12 mail carriers) and ultimately killing five.


Featured image via Washington Post/Utah National Guard

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South Korean Soldier Kills 2 in Shooting Spree Before Committing Suicide

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

A 24-year-old South Korean soldier shot and killed two fellow reservists and injured two others before turning the gun on himself earlier Wednesday, according to the Associated Press.

The shooter, surnamed Choe, was participating in a mandatory training session with fellow reservists. Choe had fired one round when he suddenly turned his K-2 rifle on them and fired seven times. He then used the ninth out of the 10 bullets he had been given to kill himself.

Army officials said the two reservists who died were shot in their heads; one died while being transported to the hospital, while the other succumbed to his injury shortly after arriving. Choe was also a reservist who had finished his compulsory military training: All able-bodied men in South Korea are required to serve two years in the armed forces and then participate in annual military training in the reserve force for eight years, up to a max of 160 hours per year.

Yonhap News reported that Choe was put in a group of soldiers who needed “special attention” during his active service due to high risk of suicide and had received treatment for depression. In a suicide note found in his pocket following the shooting, Choe had written that life was meaningless and that he had suffered during his time in the military.

“Tomorrow, I will do shooting practice. … I am becoming obsessed with thinking that I want to kill them all and I want to die,” the note read.

Bullying and Tragic Deaths in the South Korean Military


There have been a number of incidents in recent years by South Korean soldiers at army barracks that have prompted concerns and criticism about social issues in the military, including bullying, abuse, sexual harassment and proper awareness of mental health conditions. According to statistics by the Ministry of National Defense in Seoul, the army saw an average of 82.2 suicides a year between 2009-13.

An army sergeant in his 20s who went on a shooting rampage and killed five and wounded seven others in June 2014 had also been categorized as needing “special attention.” He later told investigators he had taken offense after discovering his colleagues’ drawings that portrayed him as various cartoon characters, including SpongeBob SquarePants.

In April 2014, a South Korean private died of asphyxiation after allegedly choking on food while being beaten by fellow soldiers, and two soldiers died last September during an anti-captivity training exercise, presumably due to suffocation. A female officer committed suicide in October 2013, and a South Korean military investigation determined that she had suffered repeated sexual harassment while on active duty.

Conscientious Objectors


Compulsory military service has become a contentious issue in itself. Human rights watchdog Amnesty International issued a report on Wednesday urging South Korea to end the imprisonment of around 600 men for draft-dodging. These “conscientious objectors” had been unfairly labeled as criminals, the report said, and the men faced “harsh consequences,” including abuse and discrimination, after their release because of their refusal to serve. Many of the objectors cite reasons based on their religious faith

South Korean officials have maintained that the mandatory service must remain in place as long as North Korea poses a military threat. In 2007, the Ministry of Defense considered alternatives to military service, but any ideas were scrapped once Lee Myung-bak became president the next year. Lee took a hard line stance towards North Korea, and current president Park Geun-hye has largely continued a similar policy.


Featured image via South China Morning Post

influential figures

25 Years of KoreAm Covers: Influential Figures

To mark the 25th anniversary of KoreAm Journal, we’re revisiting some memorable covers from the magazine’s archives.

Take a look at some of the creative talent, athletes, influential figures, social issues and tragic events that have appeared on our cover. The panoply of images, we hope, will serve as a historical flashback, a glimpse into the people that inspired us, the issues we explored and the events that called for deeper reflection over the last 25 years.


Here are some influential figures who have graced KoreAm‘s cover over the past 25 years. 


Congressman Jay C. Kim (April 1998): A closer look at the first Korean American elected to U.S. Congress, who in 1998 was sentenced to two months’ home detention for campaign finance violations. “After rescheduling three or four times, we were denied an interview in the 11th hour,” John Lee, a contributing editor at the time, says.


50 Novel Ideas (June 1999): “A guide to every published Korean American novel” was the focus of this cover feature.


Chang-Rae Lee (Sept. 1999): By this time, the author of 1995’s Native Speaker was about to debut his second novel, A Gesture Life.


Lela Lee (May 2001): Spending time with Lela Lee, creator of the Angry Little Asian Girl cartoon, which Lee developed in 1994.


Our Philanthropists (June 2001): KoreAm profiles four Korean American philanthropists “who realize money’s power is not just for the taking, but for the giving too.”


Sketch of Obama (Feb. 2009): Korean American artist David Choe created this portrait of a newly inaugurated Barack Obama that formed the cover issue image.


Chef David Chang (June 2009): The famed Korean American was well on his way to building his Momofuku empire with Noodle Bar, Ssam Bar, Milk Bar and Ko.


Out: Lt. Dan Choi (Aug. 2009): KoreAm profiles Army discharge 1st Lt. Dan Choi, an Iraq veteran and vocal critic against the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.


Michelle Rhee (Dec. 2009): Two-plus years into the D.C. School Chancellor’s tenure, KoreAm looked at the education leader’s record.


Phil Yu, aka Angry Asian Man (Nov. 2010): Ten years after the launch of popular blog Angry Asian Man, KoreAm learned how its founder Phil Yu became, in the words of writer Jeff Yang, “Asian America’s most influential blogger.”


Jane Kim (Feb. 2011): KoreAm spoke with Jane Kim, the first Korean American elected official in San Francisco and “unabashed policy geek.”

In the next chapter of “25 Years of KoreAm Covers,” we share some of the tragedies and natural disasters that KoreAm covered over the years.

Go to Next Chapter -> 


Read the previous chapter, “Koreans on the Road to Fame.” 

This article was published in the April/May 2015 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the April/May issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).