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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Nov. 27)

National 07:19 November 27, 2019

N. Korea's artillery firing
Peace cannot be means for denuclearization deal

The South Korean military confirmed Tuesday that North Korea conducted an artillery firing drill near the inter-Korean maritime border in the West Sea, Saturday.

The exercise clearly violated an inter-Korean military agreement reached Sept. 19 last year to avoid any activities that could heighten tensions along the border. This suggests the Kim Jong-un regime is no longer willing to comply with the pact, and may move ahead with further provocations.

What is more awful is that the South's confirmation came only after a North Korean media report on the drill. On Monday, the North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that Kim, during his "field guidance" of an artillery unit near the western sea border, "selected a target and gave an order to an artillery company to fire at it." The report also said Kim called for full readiness to carry out a combat mission at any moment.

The South Korean military mentioned the drill only after the KCNA report. During a press briefing, Monday, defense ministry spokesperson Choi Hyun-soo said the artillery firing was in violation of the Sept. 19 inter-Korean agreement, urging the North to immediately stop any moves that can increase border tensions, and to comply fully with the pact. It is not understandable why the South's military kept silent about the drill until it was reported by the North. For what? Did it want to conceal or ignore it? There should be full explanations about this, and an investigation should be launched, if necessary.

It would be reasonable to think the United States Forces Korea might have been fully aware of the North Korean artillery firing. If the allies decided to keep it secret from the public for whatever reasons, it deserves harsh criticism. Such an act hurts public trust in the military. The North probably picked Nov. 23 for the firing drill because the day marked the ninth anniversary of its shelling of the South's border island of Yeonpyeong, which killed two Marines and two civilians. This tells why the drill was not merely a drill.

Belatedly, the South Korean military delivered a letter of strong protest to North Korea, and released some information about the artillery drill, Tuesday. According to them, the exercise was conducted on Changrin Islet just north of the Northern Limit Line, the de facto inter-Korean maritime border. Changrin is located only 45 kilometers away from the South's border island of Baengnyeong.

It is believed that the drill was intended to put pressure on the U.S. as well as South Korea amid the stalled negotiations over the North's nuclear program and the deadlocked inter-Korean exchanges. This month only, Kim Jong-un has visited military units three times, calling for combat readiness there. The allies should sternly tell Kim not to cross the line. Inter-Korean peace is not a bargaining tool for the denuclearization talks.

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