PSPD in English Peace/Disarmament 2024-01-25   531

Korean Peninsula : Stop All Hostile Acts and Military Action Provoking Armed Conflict

Military tensions on the Korean Peninsula are at an all-time high, with the escalation of military exercises in both North and South Korea, especially in the West Sea, leading to an imminent crisis. All channels of communication between the two Koreas have been cut off, and the September 19 Inter-Korean Military Agreement, the minimum safeguard against armed conflict, has been neutralized.

<Network of Border Residents, Civil Society, Religious Group for Peace and Solidarity> held a press conference on 25 January. Residents of border regions expressed their concerns about the recent escalation of military tensions. And we also shared the views of the ROK civil society and the diagnosis of military security experts. We want a government that does its best to prevent war, not win it. We call for an immediate cessation of all hostile acts and military actions that provoke the war, and work to prevent armed conflict and restore channels of dialogue. 

2024.01.25 Press Conference (photo by Network of Border Residents, Civil Society, Religious Group for Peace and Solidarity)

The issue I’m going to talk about today is the issue of the anti-North Korea leafleting. This is a very dangerous act that is actually a means of low-intensity warfare. But some religious figures and North Korea defector organizations have framed it as being for ‘North Korean human rights, North Korean people’s right to know.’ They have crossed the line despite the opposition of the people in the border regions including Paju, Gimpo, and Yeoncheon. While some religious figures and defector groups claim that the anti-NK leafleting is a human rights movement, for the people in the border regions, it is an anti-human rights activity that threatens our right to survival.

(…) If the North Korean military tries to fire an anti-aircraft strike against the leaflet balloons crossing the Military Demarcation Line(MDL) or even to strike at the source area of the balloons, an inter-Korean conflict could break out at any time.

– Lee Jae Hee (Paju in Gyeonggi Province resident, CSO activist)

We, the farmers of Cheorwon, are farming across the CCZ military area. Because it is a military area, in case of an emergency such as a military conflict, we are urgently asked to evacuate or are not allowed to engage in farming activities. This has happened several times before, and it’s very alarming and causes great inconvenience to farming activities.

The sending of anti-NK leaflets to North Korea from Cheorwon and other areas outside of Cheorwon makes us anxious and nervous. 

Those of us in border regions know the dangers of war and its damages better than anyone. The Korean War of over 70 years ago didn’t happen overnight; the signs had been building for a long time beforehand, with multiple large and small military clashes on both sides of the armistice line.

Even now, North and South Korea are conducting various military exercises at a higher intensity than before. Furthermore, the September 19 Inter-Korean Military Agreement has been rendered useless, harsh words are being spoken, and all channels of dialogue, both civilian and governmental, have been closed.

Nowadays, when we see military vehicles or troops traveling in the region, we look at them with a sense of unease, wondering what kind of military operation is about to begin.

(…) We sincerely hope that the government will honor the September 19 Inter-Korean Military Agreement again and revise the law banning anti-NK Leaflet launches to pave the way for peace. As residents of the border region, we once again urge the government to find a path of peaceful dialogue rather than military confrontation.

– Kim Yong Bin (Cheorwon in Gangwon Province resident, Farmer)

Five West Sea Islands in Korea including Yeonpyeong Island, is the border region between North and South Korea, and has been the site of military conflict since the Korean War. The first and second Yeonpyeong naval battles took place in 1999 and 2002, followed by the Daecheong naval battle in 2009 and the Yeonpyeong bombardment in 2010. 

The shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, in particular, was an event that made people realize that the Korean War had not yet ended and that they were living in a reality of national division. The main lesson of the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island is that if North and South Korea only pursue military confrontation, they will only hurt each other, and it is the people living on the border region who will suffer the most. 

Under the Yoon administration, North and South Korea have been engaged in intense military confrontation. Since the September 19 Inter-Korean Military Agreement, which has served as a safety pin in the region, has been suspended, the peace in the West Sea has become more unstable. 

And on January 5, Yeonpyeong Island was evacuated again for the first time in 13 years, and residents felt threatened for their lives. (…) It doesn’t matter to us whether the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s plan for a permanent naval drill on the west sea from January 5 to 7 or North Korea’s artillery drill came first. What matters is that the residents of the West Sea once again felt threatened for their survival after the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in 2010.

Now that the maritime buffer zone is gone, the West Sea is becoming a dangerous zone. Some people say that the situation is “building up to war on the Korean Peninsula”. I couldn’t agree more. The best protection for the people living in the border regions, including the Five West Sea Islands, is peace between two Koreas, peace on the Korean Peninsula, and peace on the West Sea. For the sake of the people living along the border region, we must stop the military exercises now, restore the September 19 Inter-Korean Military Agreement, and start inter-Korean dialogue. 

– Park Tae Won (Yeonpyeong Island resident, Fisherman)

2024.01.25 Press Conference (photo by Network of Border Residents, Civil Society, Religious Group for Peace and Solidarity)

Program

  • Presentation 1. Concerns about anti-NK leaflets : Lee Jae Hee (Paju in Gyeonggi Province resident, CSO activist)
  • Presentation 2. Concerns about the expansion of military exercises : Kim Yong Bin (Cheorwon in Gangwon Province resident, Farmer)
  • Presentation 3. Assessment of the military crisis on the Korean peninsula : Kim Dong-Yup (Professor at University of North Korean Studies, Military and Security Studies)
  • Presentation 4. Announcing CSO’s statement : Lee Tae Ho (Director of Center for Peace and Disarmament, People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy(PSPD)) /  Choi EunA (Secretary of The South Korean Committee for Implementation of June 15 Joint Declaration)
  • Presentation 5. Park Tae Won (Yeonpyeong Island resident, Fisherman) –  He is unable to participate due to weather conditions in the west sea. Please refer to his speech text.
  • Q&A

* Border region : the southern region near the DMZ

>> Click here to see all speech text


CSO’s statement

Stop All Hostile Acts and Military Action Provoking Armed Conflict

Military tensions on the Korean Peninsula are at an all-time high, with the escalation of military exercises in both North and South Korea, especially in the West Sea, leading to an imminent crisis. All channels of communication between the two Koreas have been cut off, and the September 19 Inter-Korean Military Agreement, the minimum safeguard against armed conflict, has been neutralized. With land, sea, and air buffer zones all gone, the risk of an accidental conflict has increased dramatically.

The current situation is not the result of North Korea’s military exercises alone. In early January, North Korea’s artillery drills along the Northern Limit Line(NLL) were preceded by joint combat drills between South Korea and the United States, as well as massive firing and field exercises by the South Korean Army and Navy. North Korea claimed the artillery drill was in response to a South Korean military exercise, but the South considered it a ‘provocation’ and evacuated residents of Yeonpyeong, Baengnyeong, and Daecheong Island before conducting a counter-fire drill.

At the end of last year, at the plenary meeting of the Workers’ Party of Korea, Chairman Kim Jong Un stated that inter-Korean relations were stuck in a ‘hostile belligerent relationship’. The South had already declared in its <2022 National Defense White Paper> that ‘the North Korean regime and the North Korean military are our enemies’. Military pressure and hostile policies toward North Korea have only intensified military tensions and confrontation. In the midst of the ongoing confrontation, with two Koreas defining each other as enemies, there is no realistic plan for crisis management anywhere.

The residents along the border are feeling the effects of the crisis firsthand. People are becoming increasingly anxious. However, the South Korean government has indicated that it will resume firing and military exercises in the former land and sea buffer zones. Reconnaissance flights along the Military Demarcation Line(MDL) have already resumed in November 2023, and now the South Korean government is planning to resume firing drills and field exercises on land and at sea. Given the disagreements between the two Koreas over the definition of the Northern Limit Line(NLL), the potential for conflict at sea is a serious concern. If live-fire drills are resumed at firing ranges within 5km of the MDL, the risk of local warfare on the ground will be just as great. Add to this the prospect of full-scale distribution of anti-NK leaflets, and a large-scale US-ROK combined military exercise in March.

If they don’t want war, they should stop here. We must not have another war on the Korean Peninsula, which has been in a state of unstable armistice for more than 70 years. Both North and South Korea must return to the spirit of the September 19 Inter-Korean Military Agreement. We call for an immediate cessation of all hostile acts and military actions that provoke the war, and work to prevent armed conflict and restore channels of dialogue.

We don’t want a government that shouts “We will not avoid war.” President Yoon’s emphasis on ‘peace through strength’ and the suspension of the effectiveness of the September 19 Inter-Korean Military Agreement are ways to make the situation worse. Shin Won-sik, Minister of National Defense’s ‘immediately and forcefully retaliate to the end’ principle is a declaration of war, not a crisis management strategy. We want a government that does its best to prevent war, not win it. Military crises affect the economy and society as a whole. If an accidental collision leads to a local war or nuclear war, it will be an irreparable disaster.

The Yoon administration must immediately halt military exercises that will increase the risk of armed conflict in the border region. We must remember that peace and security on the Korean Peninsula can never be guaranteed without dialogue and military trust-building between the two Koreas that face the MDL. We urge the government to stop ‘blaming North Korea’ and immediately take measures to prevent armed conflict. We also call for stopping dangerous attempts to drop anti-NK leaflets across the border.

The Korean Peninsula is again at a crossroads between ‘war’ and ‘peace’. We can’t just leave it like this. Civil society organizations that have been working for peace on the Korean Peninsula will do our best to resolve the threat of war and reopen the path to peace. We will monitor all hostile acts and military actions and constantly urge them to stop, and we will work to amplify the voices of the residents in border region who are suffering anxiety.

25 January 2024

Network of Border Residents, Civil Society, Religious Group for Peace and Solidarity

>> Click here for the Korean Version

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