North Korea Relocates Forces Around Capital

North Korea is relocating soldiers and heavy weapons closer to its capital, evidently to make ready for a large military event, South Korea’s Defense Ministry said today (see GSN, Aug. 23).

The agency told South Korean lawmakers that the redeployment of forces closer to Pyongyang started midway through last month, the Associated Press reported.

Tensions have been particularly high on the Korean Peninsula following the March sinking of a South Korean warship, which Seoul has blamed on its aggressive neighbor. The Stalinist state has denied the allegation and repeatedly threatened war if it is punished for the attack on the Cheonan and the deaths of 46 sailors.

“The army and people of the (North) will never tolerate any reckless moves of the U.S. imperialists and the South Korean puppet group of traitors to provoke a nuclear war but (will) launch a sacred retaliatory war … based on nuclear deterrent any time they deem necessary,” the North’s deputy leader, Kim Yong Nam, said today, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

“A massive national event” is expected in the North, possibly tied to Workers’ Party events in September and October, the report said. The Stalinist state frequently unveils new missiles and armaments during its important military gatherings.

The North Korean regime could also ratchet up a widely suspected campaign to solidify the transfer of power from leader Kim Jong Il to his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, by electing the younger Kim to a leadership position in the Workers’ Party at a conference early next month.

Meanwhile, Chinese special envoy for Korean Peninsula affairs Wu Dawei, is set to travel to the South this week for talks on North Korea’s nuclear weapons operations, Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said. Wu traveled to the North last week for talks on restarting the paralyzed six-nation talks aimed at North Korean denuclearization. Pyongyang’s state-controlled media said Wu and North Korean officials reached a “full consensus” on all issues considered during the visit (Hyung-Jin Kim, Associated Press/Google News, Aug. 24).

Wu , Beijing’s envoy to the nuclear talks, is slated to meet with his South Korean counterpart, Wi Sung-lac, and with senior presidential foreign affairs secretary Kim Sung-hwan, Agence France-Presse reported.

“He will explain the results of his recent trip to Pyongyang and discuss the North’s nuclear issue,” the South Korean Foreign Ministry said (Agence France-Presse I/, Aug. 24).

A new South Korean military order issued today pledged an immediate counterstrike in the event of future North Korean artillery barrages over a contested sea boundary line, AFP reported.

In the past, South Korean forces have been instructed to give three warnings prior to firing on the North, which last fired volleys into disputed waters on Aug. 9.

As part of Seoul’s response to the Cheonan incident, South Korean forces have engaged in unilateral and bilateral military training exercises with the United States. Local media reports assert South Korea has conducted exercises associated with a new war plan that focuses on taking and maintaining control over North Korea.

In the event of a Northern offensive, the South would respond with a counterattack up to the Chongchon River, some 48 miles north of Pyongyang, the Dong-a Ilbo reported. An unidentified military officer told the newspaper Seoul’s Unification Ministry was also preparing a “stabilization” effort for integrating North Korean nationals into the South (Lim Chang-won, Agence France-Presse II/Google News, Aug. 24).

Elsewhere, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was anticipated to arrive in Pyongyang today for talks on securing the freedom of an imprisoned U.S. citizen, an unidentified U.S. government official told the Los Angeles Times.

Aijalon Mahli Gomes, a 30-year-old one-time teacher in South Korea, was convicted in April of trespassing into the North from China. Pyongyang’s state-run media has said he tried kill himself.

Foreign Policy magazine reported Carter is acting in a nonofficial capacity and is not going as an envoy of the Obama administration.

Still, his trip could result in further diplomatic exchanges with the North, said Seoul-based academic Kim Yong-hyun.

“There’s a good chance he’ll discuss issues beyond the release of Gomes, such as six-party talks and overall peace on the Korean Peninsula,” Kim said. “After all, Carter was instrumental in the summit of the two Koreas” (Glionna/Demick, Los Angeles Times, Aug. 24).