North Korean soldiers stand near their military guard post as a North Korean flag flutters in the wind, seen from Paju, South Korea, Sunday, June 9, 2024

South Korean troops were forced to fire warning shots after a contingent of 20 North Korean soldiers briefly crossed the border this week, Seoul’s military said this morning in the latest escalation of tensions at the line.

The worrying incursion over the line that separates the two militaries took place in an overgrown area of the heavily fortified border area.

Relations between the two Koreas – technically still at war as the 1950-1953 conflict ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty – are at one of their lowest points in years.

The North has in recent weeks sent hundreds of balloons full of trash and faeces into the South, while Seoul has installed loudspeakers along the border to broadcast anti-Kim Jong Un propaganda in Cold War-style campaigns.

‘Some North Korean soldiers working within the DMZ on the central front briefly crossed the Military Demarcation Line (MDL),’ the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement, referring to the line of control between the two Koreas.

‘After our military issued warning broadcasts and warning shots, they retreated northward,’ it said.

North Korean soldiers stand near their military guard post as a North Korean flag flutters in the wind, seen from Paju, South Korea, Sunday, June 9, 2024

North Korean soldiers stand near their military guard post as a North Korean flag flutters in the wind, seen from Paju, South Korea, Sunday, June 9, 2024

Barricades are placed near the Unification Bridge,which leads to the Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on June 11, 2024 in Paju, South Korea

Barricades are placed near the Unification Bridge,which leads to the Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on June 11, 2024 in Paju, South Korea

A balloon is seen attached to an object (R) after it landed in a rice field in Seonwon-myeon, Ganghwa County, in the city of Incheon on June 10, 2024

A balloon is seen attached to an object (R) after it landed in a rice field in Seonwon-myeon, Ganghwa County, in the city of Incheon on June 10, 2024

This handout photo taken on June 9, 2024 and provided by the South Korean Defence Ministry shows unidentified objects believed to be North Korean trash from balloons that crossed the inter-Korea border, on a street in Seoul

This handout photo taken on June 9, 2024 and provided by the South Korean Defence Ministry shows unidentified objects believed to be North Korean trash from balloons that crossed the inter-Korea border, on a street in Seoul

This picture taken on June 1, 2024 and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) via KNS on June 2, 2024 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaking as he attends the opening ceremony of the Central Cadre School of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) in Pyongyang

This picture taken on June 1, 2024 and released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) via KNS on June 2, 2024 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaking as he attends the opening ceremony of the Central Cadre School of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) in Pyongyang

The incursion was likely accidental, JCS spokesperson Lee Sung-joon told reporters Tuesday.

‘The situation at that time was that the DMZ was now overgrown with trees and the MDL mark was not clearly visible,’ Lee said.

‘There was no road, and the (North Korean soldiers) were moving through the bushes, and we were observing (them) even before they got close to the MDL.

‘We believe that they did not intend to invade, considering that they immediately moved northward after the warning broadcasts and warning shots.’

In recent weeks, North Korea has sent more than a thousand balloons laden with trash including cigarette butts and used toilet paper southward – a response, it says, to balloons carrying anti-Pyongyang propaganda sent north by activists.

In response, the South Korean government has suspended a 2018 tension-reducing military deal and restarted loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts along the border, infuriating the North, which warned Seoul was creating ‘a new crisis’.

North Korea could be re-installing its own loudspeakers along the border, Seoul’s military said Monday, a tactic it had used since the 1960s but suspended in 2018.

Seoul’s spy agency said on Tuesday it had also detected signs that Pyongyang was demolishing sections of the inter-Korean railway.

A South Korean soldier stands guard near a military facility where loudspeakers dismantled in 2018 used to be, near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Paju on June 11, 2024

A South Korean soldier stands guard near a military facility where loudspeakers dismantled in 2018 used to be, near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Paju on June 11, 2024

An officer wearing protective gear collects the trash from a balloon presumably sent by North Korea, in Siheung, South Korea, Sunday, June 2, 2024

An officer wearing protective gear collects the trash from a balloon presumably sent by North Korea, in Siheung, South Korea, Sunday, June 2, 2024

South Korean soldiers wearing protective gears check the trash from a balloon presumably sent by North Korea, in Incheon, South Korea, on June 2, 2024

South Korean soldiers wearing protective gears check the trash from a balloon presumably sent by North Korea, in Incheon, South Korea, on June 2, 2024

This picture taken on May 30, 2024 and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) via KNS on May 31, 2024 shows the test-firing of 600mm super-large rocket artillery at an unconfirmed location in North Korea

This picture taken on May 30, 2024 and released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) via KNS on May 31, 2024 shows the test-firing of 600mm super-large rocket artillery at an unconfirmed location in North Korea

The incursion of the North Korean soldiers could be a ‘small provocation’ to test the waters ahead of a bigger move, Ahn Chan-il, a defector-turned-researcher who runs the World Institute for North Korea Studies, told AFP.

‘It can also be seen as part of (chief regime spokeswoman and sister of Kim Jong Un) Kim Yo Jong’s preparation for what she described as a ”new countermeasures”,’ he added.

Pyongyang has previously threatened artillery strikes against the loudspeaker units.

South Korea’s loudspeaker broadcast on Sunday included news segments about Seoul’s decision to suspend the 2018 military agreement along with a report on the global sales performance of Samsung Electronics smartphones, according to the Yonhap news agency.

It also played songs by K-pop sensation BTS, Yonhap said.

Apart from anti-Kim Jong Un leaflets, North Korea is also extremely sensitive about its people gaining access to South Korea’s flourishing popular culture.

According to a United Nations report, Pyongyang enacted a law in 2020 to punish anyone possessing or distributing a large amount of South Korean media content with life imprisonment or even the death penalty.

Experts have warned that the decision to jettison the 2018 deal and restart loudspeaker broadcasts could have serious implications, as previous tit-for-tat propaganda actions have had real-world consequences for inter-Korean relations.

In 2020, Pyongyang, blaming anti-North leaflets, unilaterally cut off all official military and political communication links with the South, and blew up an inter-Korean liaison office on its side of the border.

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