TOKYO -- South Korea accused North Korea last night of sending 260 heavily armed soldiers into a sensitive area of the demilitarized zone that divides North and South, triggering a state of emergency along the border.
The North Korean incursion, the second in two days, reportedly began when nine truckloads of North Korean troops conducted military exercises in the joint security area at Panmunjom, a border post between the two Koreas.
No one is treating the incursions as a sign that war is imminent, and analysts have not spotted any major North Korean troop movements or other preparations for an attack. Instead, the incident apparently marks a further effort by North Korea to undermine the armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953 and that has kept the peace since then.
Each side is allowed only five officers and 35 enlisted personnel in the joint security area, and they are permitted to carry only side arms. However, South Korea's Defense Ministry said that its spotters had verified that in this latest incident North Korean troops carried machine guns, mortars and an 82-millimeter recoilless rifle.
South Korea's military immediately declared an emergency and made preparations to deploy additional troops, while assembling crisis-management teams to monitor the situation.
Thursday, North Korea said it would stop adhering to its obligations under the armistice, and Friday it ordered its first incursion into the joint security area, with 130 armed troops entering its section of the demilitarized zone.
The border, with its tank traps, minefields and bunkers, grew a bit more tense when South Korea raised its intelligence-monitoring level Friday to the highest status in 14 years.
This means more frequent monitoring of North Korean troops and positions, but the level of alert for troops in South Korea has not changed from its usual peacetime status.
The border is the site of the greatest concentration of hostile troops in the world. Some 37,000 U.S. troops are based in South Korea against the possibility of attack from North Korea.
Opposition politicians worry that it is in the interest of South Korean President Kim Young-sam to dramatize the problems. Parliamentary elections will be held Thursday, and Mr. Kim's party may do better if there is the perception of a national crisis that could boost desires for unity and stability.
As for North Korea, it has not been soothing either, accusing Seoul of preparing to launch an invasion of the North.
"It is self-evident that our people and People's Army cannot remain an onlooker to the situation that can be seen on the eve of war and cannot but take a countermeasure," a North Korean newspaper declared. The countermeasure it referred to was the withdrawal from obligations under the armistice.
Some analysts also say that it may be in North Korea's interest to raise the threat of war. Most of the time, the West pays little interest to North Korea. But when the situation has seemed particularly dangerous, North Korea sometimes has managed to attract attention and negotiate agreements to its advantage.
Military experts say that North Korea would be destroyed if it started a war with South Korea, and for that reason many say an outbreak of fighting is unlikely.
Pub Date: 4/07/96