(ATTN: UPDATES with response by South Korea's defense, unification ministries in paras 8-13)
By Yi Wonju
SEOUL, June 23 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and other top officials had discussions on adding missions and revising operational plans of front-line military units during a major party meeting, according to state media Thursday.
The news came two months after the Kim regime openly hinted at deploying tactical nuclear weapons in front-line artillery units. The secretive nation has reportedly completed preparations for a nuclear test seen as part of efforts to develop smaller nuclear warheads to fit on tactical guided weapons and upgraded short-range ballistic missiles.
During the second-day session of the third enlarged meeting of the eighth Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK), which opened Tuesday, "the work of additionally confirming the operation duties of the frontline units of the Korean People's Army (KPA) and modifying the operation plans" was discussed, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in its English-language report.
Among other agenda items at the meeting chaired by Kim were "the issues related to reorganization of key military organizational formations," it added.
Regarding the adoption of "important military measures to enhance the operational capabilities of the frontline units," Kim "stressed the importance of this work and clarified all the principles, tasks and ways for implementing it," the KCNA reported without elaborating.
Photos made public by the KCNA showed Ri Thae-sop, chief of the General Staff of the KPA, delivering a presentation for Kim, using a military map of the eastern region and the East Sea. Apparently the map was secret as the released image was blurred.
Two top military officials, Pak Jong-chon and Ri Pyong-chol, were seated right next to leader Kim, suggesting they currently serve as vice chairmen of the Central Military Commission of the WPK.
The meeting appears to signal that Pyongyang will intensify its offensive against Seoul, an official at South Korea's unification ministry said.
"We find it highly likely that (the North) will escalate the level of military threat against us, given that it also intentionally released a map showing South Korea's eastern region on the Korean Peninsula," the official said on the condition of anonymity.
The official added that the North's rare disclosure of discussions on its operational plan -- usually kept behind closed doors -- and the assignment of an additional mission to such border units directed at South Korea, are viewed as an indication of more provocative acts.
South Korea's military said it is trying to analyze implications behind the North's talk of altering operational plans of frontline troops.
"We are keeping close tabs on related (North Korean) movements," Col. Kim Jun-rak, spokesperson for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a regular press briefing.
Kim also pointed out the ongoing efforts by Seoul and Washington to update their war plans in consideration of shifts in the security environment, the North's evolving military threats and other elements.
After the North test-fired a new tactical guided weapon in April, it stated that the weapon has "great significance" in "enhancing the efficiency in the operation of tactical nukes of the DPRK and diversification of their firepower missions." DPRK stands for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
This week's party meeting has drawn keen attention from the outside world seeking a clue to whether and when the North will press ahead with what would be its first underground nuclear experiment in more than four years despite repeated warnings by South Korea and the United States of punitive measures.
It remains unconfirmed when the session will finish. Following the end, Pyongyang's state-controlled media is expected to release reports on its results.
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