South Korea fires warning shots after North Korean soldiers briefly cross border

South Korea fires warning shots after North Korean soldiers briefly cross border

The South Korean military fired warning shots after about 20 North Korean soldiers crossed their shared border, escalating tensions sparked by an intensifying “balloon war”.

South Korea’s Joint Chief of Staff said the North Korean soldiers crossed the Military Demarcation Line at 12.30pm local time on Sunday but returned after warning shots were fired.

The troops crossed the land border to carry out an “unspecified task” within the Demilitarized Zone, which refers to the buffer 2.5 miles-wide zone between two Koreas, military spokesperson Col Lee Sung-jun was quoted as saying by the Yonhap news agency.

However, they do not appear to have crossed the border intentionally, Col Lee said, pointing out that it was a wooded area and demarcation signs weren’t clearly visible.

The incursion came on the heels of Pyongyang warning of a “new counteraction” after South Korea resumed loudspeaker broadcasts and activists floated propaganda leaflets across the border into North Korea.

The neighbours have been engaged in psychological warfare since the Korean war in the 1950s, flying balloons filled with propaganda material and using radio broadcasts and loudspeakers to influence each other’s citizens, promoting their ideologies and social systems and encouraging soldiers to defect.

Matters came to a head last month when North Korea floated 200 balloons filled with trash in a tit-for-tat response to activists in South Korea sending balloons carrying propaganda material about democracy and memory devices with K-pop music videos and dramas.

Seoul then suspended a 2018 deal to reduce hostility and resumed loudspeaker broadcasts of propaganda songs for soldiers on the other side – a move that Pyongyang denounced as a “prelude to a very dangerous situation”.

"If the ROK simultaneously carries out the leaflet scattering and loudspeaker broadcasting provocation over the border, it will undoubtedly witness the new counteraction of the DPRK," Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, said in a statement carried by the state news agency KCNA on Sunday.

The next day, South Korea completed a review with its chief ally, the US, of joint guidelines for responding to North Korea in the event of a nuclear attack.

Vipin Narang, US assistant secretary of defence for space policy, described the review as “perhaps our most significant progress in the first year of the NCG”, referring to the Nuclear Consultative Group, which met for the third time in April under the leadership of US president Joe Biden and his South Korean counterpart Yoon Suk-yeol.

“Specifically, the guidelines cover the principles and procedures for consultations particularly in a DPRK nuclear crisis.”