Military ups readiness against possible N.K. provocations ahead of joint drills with U.S.
SEOUL, March 4 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's military has prepared its readiness against possible North Korean provocations as the combined springtime military exercise with the United States is set to begin later this month, sources said Saturday.
The military is prepared to fire artillery shots into "buffer zones" in the North as a countermeasure if Pyongyang violates the 2018 inter-Korean military tension reduction agreement by firing shots into the South's buffer zones first, a military source told Yonhap News Agency on the condition of anonymity.
The agreement, also dubbed the Sept. 19 agreement, calls for halting all hostile military activity between the two Koreas. It was signed after a 2018 summit between then President Moon Jae-in and North Korea leader Kim Jong-un.
The remarks came ahead of the Freedom Shield (FS) exercise, scheduled to take place from March 13-23, amid Pyongyang's continuing military provocations.
Pyongyang has violated the Sept. 19 agreement by firing artillery shots to maritime "buffer zones" between the Koreas on 13 occasions last year and firing a missile past the Northern Limit Line (NLL) in the East Sea in November.
At that time, Seoul's military stopped at responding to the provocations with joint military drills without equivalent countermeasures.
But late last year, Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup told the parliament the military will take offensive measures if needed, saying South Korea should not be the only one complying with the Sept. 19 agreement.
The remarks came after North Korean drones intruded across the inter-Korean border on Dec. 26, prompting South Korea to send its own unmanned vehicles into the North in a corresponding step.
Observers say North Korea is expected to strongly protest to this year's joint military drill as it includes the new large-scale field training exercise in line with the allies' push to reinforce training programs and enhance their "realism."
Pyongyang has warned that Seoul and Washington would face "unprecedentedly" strong counteractions should they press ahead with this year's plans for combined drills, which it has decried as preparations for a war of aggression.
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