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Tensions rise on Korean Peninsula after DPRK's nuke test
Tensions rose on the Korean Peninsula after the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)'s nuclear test last week as the rival Koreas resumed propaganda broadcasts and the U.S. forces sent a B-52 bomber as part of retaliatory measures.
Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), on Monday visited the air force base in Osan, 40 km south of Seoul, along with South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Lee Sun-Jin.
During the visit to the air base where South Korea's Air Force command and the U.S. Seventh Fleet command are located, the U.S. commander instructed efforts to keep defense readiness at the highest level against any possible DPRK provocations, according to Yonhap news agency report.
Chairman Lee warned that it was highly likely for the DPRK forces to conduct surprise provocations following the nuclear test to change the current situation in their favor.
Such warnings came a day after a U.S. B-52 bomber, capable of delivering nuclear missile, flew over South Korea's airspace in response to what the DPRK claimed was its first successful test of a hydrogen bomb last Wednesday.
The long-range bomber, which can drop conventional bombs and also launch cruise missiles for a precision strike, flew back to its base in Guam after the fly-over, but it caused the DPRK's condemnation of pushing the situation into"the brink of war."
In addition to the B-52 bomber, U.S. and South Korean defense authorities were continuing discussion on further deployment of"strategic assets", South Korea's defense ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok said at a press briefing on Monday.
Other strategic assets under consideration reportedly include a U.S. aircraft carrier, a nuclear-powered submarine and F-22 stealth fighters. U.S. aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan, currently in Yokosuka, Japan, is widely expected to be deployed on the peninsula during the U.S.-South Korea joint annual war games scheduled to kick off in February.
In retaliation for the nuclear test, South Korea's military restarted blasting anti-DPRK propaganda messages from speakers at Friday noon across the border into the DPRK, which had called it an"act of declaring war."
On the same day, the DPRK forces also resumed its own propaganda broadcasts in frontline areas in response to South Korea's psychological warfare.
The DPRK has reportedly expanded its broadcast sites to 11 locations near where South Korean loudspeakers are blaring anti-DPRK messages.
In August 2015 when South Korea resumed the psychological warfare to respond to what Seoul claimed was land mine explosions orchestrated by DPRK forces, it took just 10 days to trigger an exchange of artillery fire in border areas between the two Koreas.
At the time, tensions surged on the peninsula, pushing troops of the two Koreas to the brink of armed conflict. The tensions were eased only after marathon talks between top-level military officials of the two Koreas resulted in the so-called Aug. 25 agreement on a series of measures to defuse tensions.
Current tensions seemed harder to be lowered than in August last year as South Korea and other countries are pushing for other retaliatory measures like tough UN Security Council sanctions on Pyongyang.
Seoul's unification ministry said Monday that it will restrict entrance of South Korean workers into the Kaesong industrial complex, the only remaining symbol of inter-Korean economic cooperation, from Tuesday.
Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-Hee told a regular press briefing that workers to be allowed to stay in the Kaesong factory park will be lowered to the minimum level necessary for production.
Jeong said that the minimum number will be adjusted from the current 800 people or so to about 650. Some 120 South Korean companies run factories in the Kaesong complex, employing tens of thousands of DPRK workers.
[Source: Xinhua, Seoul, 11Jan16]
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