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North Korea’s Packing Illegal Firepower On The Border, And It’s Making South Korea Uneasy

Some in South Korea are accusing North Korea of violating the armistice by opening fire at the border.

When a North Korean soldier slipped into South Korea in the Joint Security Area (JSA) at the Demilitarized Zone Monday, four of his comrades let loose a barrage of bullets, firing roughly 40 rounds at the man. He was hit five times before he collapsed in a pile of leaves on the southern side. The soldier was airlifted to a South Korean medical facility, where he remains in critical condition.

While South Korea is doing all that it can to save the wounded soldier’s life, Seoul is also deeply troubled by other aspects of the recent incident.

The North Korean troops who attempted to gun down the defector did so with assault rifles, specifically AK-47s. “This is a violation of the armistice agreement,” a South Korean military official told the Korea JoongAng Daily, adding, “We plan to lodge a serious protest against North Korea through the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission.”

Cheong Wa Dae — the Blue House — has yet to officially accuse North Korea of violating the armistice.

Only handguns are allowed in the JSA. Furthermore, the South is investigating whether North Korea fired into South Korea, which would also constitute a violation of the agreement made in the aftermath of the Korean War. It is, however, particularly disconcerting that the North Korean guards are carrying heavier firepower than their South Korean counterparts.

Violations of the armistice are not uncommon by any means, given North Korea’s propensity for provocations. As of 2011, the North had, according to the South Korean defense ministry, violated the Korean armistice a total of 221 times. These included 26 military attacks, such as the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island.

Weapons restrictions do not really matter to North Korea, which has also tested ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons numerous times, violating multiple United Nations resolutions prohibiting such behavior.

The recent incident at the JSA has raised a number of questions for South Korea, but Seoul has no authority to independently change the rules of engagement, which prohibited South Korean soldiers from firing back as the North Korean soldier made his escape, or to adjust weapons restrictions at this particular part of the DMZ, as that power belongs to the United Nations Command.

While some members of the public suggest that the South should have fired a few “warning shots,” the military has to consider personal safety and the threat of escalation when formulating a response.

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