SEOUL (Web Desk) – North Korean leader Kim Jong-un put his frontline troops on a war footing Friday to back up an ultimatum for South Korea to halt high-decibel propaganda broadcasts across the border.
The move came as military tensions on the divided Korean peninsula soared following a rare exchange of artillery fire on Thursday that put the South Korean army on maximum alert.
The KCNA report said Mr Kim declared a “semi-state of war” at an emergency meeting late Thursday.
It threatened action unless Seoul ends its anti-Pyongyang border broadcasts.
The North often uses fierce rhetoric when tensions rise and it has made similar declarations before.
KCNA reported that Mr Kim had ordered that troops be “fully ready for any military operations at any time” from 17:00 Friday local time (08:30 GMT), at the emergency meeting of the central military commission.
South Korea’s Vice Defence Minister Baek Seung-joo said that 11 sites with loudspeakers for the anti-Pyongyang broadcasts are likely to be targets.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, citing a government source, said that North Korea appeared to be preparing to fire missiles.
Technically, the two Koreas have been at war for the past 65 years, as the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a ceasefire that was never ratified by a formal peace treaty.
The North often conducts missile tests to show displeasure at South Korea, or in protest at US-South Korean military drills.
In 2004, South Korea and North Korea reached an agreement to dismantle their propaganda loudspeakers at the border.
The broadcasts were part of a programme of psychological warfare, according to South Korean newspaper Korea Times, to deliver outside news so that North Korean soldiers and border-area residents could hear it.
On 10 August this year, South Korea restarted broadcasting in an apparent reaction to two South Korean soldiers being injured in a landmine explosion in the demilitarised zone that was blamed on the North.
Military authorities say days later the North also restarted its broadcasting of anti-South propaganda.
However, some reports said that the quality of the North Korean loudspeakers is so bad that it is difficult to understand what they are saying.
The South had previously threatened to restart broadcasts in 2010 but although the loudspeakers were reinstalled at that time, they were not put into use, with the South using FM broadcasts into the North instead.
The latest tensions come after North Korea fired a shell at South Korea’s western border on Thursday, reportedly to protest against the South’s propaganda broadcasts.
The South responded to the North’s shelling with artillery fire, and ordered the evacuation of some of its residents on the border. There were no reported casualties.
North Korea then warned the South that it would take military action unless border propaganda broadcasts were ended and broadcast facilities dismantled “within 48 hours”.
However, in a separate letter Pyongyang said it was willing to resolve the issue even though it considered the broadcasts a declaration of war, South Korea’s unification ministry said, according to Reuters.
South Korea and the US also began annual joint military exercises on Monday – they describe the drills as defensive, but North Korea calls them a rehearsal for invasion.
South Korean television broadcast images of President Park Geun-Hye wearing army fatigues as she addressed a meeting of top military commanders outside Seoul.
“Any provocations by North Korea will not be tolerated,” Park told the gathering.
The United States urged Pyongyang to avoid any further escalation, with the Pentagon stressing it remained firmly committed to defending ally South Korea.