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Land mine blasts inflicted casualties on North Korean troops in DMZ in recent months, South says

By Yoonjung Seo and Nectar Gan, CNN

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) — North Korean troops have suffered “multiple casualties” from land mine explosions while laying explosives along the country’s heavily armed border with the South in recent months, the South Korean military said Tuesday.

Since January, North Korean soldiers have been setting mines and installing structures that appear to be anti-tank barriers at various locations along the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that splits the Koreas, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).

A number of the North Korean soldiers were killed or wounded by land mine explosions, the JCS said in a statement, without providing more details on the casualties.

The South Korean military is closely monitoring the North’s military activities on the border, it added.

The report comes amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula, where North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ramped up fiery rhetoric and scrapped a longstanding policy of seeking peaceful reunification with South Korea.

In recent weeks, hundreds of trash-filled ballons launched from the North have landed in the South, while the government in Seoul resumed loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts across the border.

Last week, Kim’s sister and Pyongyang spokeswoman Kim Yo Jong warned the resumption of the broadcasts was “a prelude to a very dangerous situation,” saying South Korea would be subject to an unspecified “new counteraction” from the North if it continued with the action and failed to prevent activists from sending anti-North Korean propaganda leaflets over the border.

The 160-mile-long DMZ was created at the end of the Korean War in 1953, cutting the Korean Peninsula roughly in two under a deal between North Korea and China on one side and the collection of Western allies on the other known as the United Nations Command.

But a formal peace treaty was never signed, leaving the two Koreas technically in a state of war. And the DMZ has since become one of the most heavily fortified borders in the world, ringed by miles of barbed wire and land mines and patrolled by soldiers from both sides for decades.

In its statement Tuesday, the JCS said North Korean troops have also been removing railway rails and lamp posts along roads approaching the border under orders from Kim Jong Un.

Analysis is needed to determine whether the measures are aimed at solidifying the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) that runs down the center of the DMZ as an official border between the two Koreas, according to the JCS.

It said the measures are also an effort by North Korea to strengthen internal controls, such as blocking North Korean residents and troops from defecting to South Korea.

Separately, South Korean troops fired warning shots after North Korean soldiers working in the DMZ briefly crossed into the South on Tuesday in the second such incident in less than two weeks, the JCS said.

Around 20 to 30 North Korean soldiers carrying work tools crossed the MDL within the DMZ at around 8:30 a.m. local time, according to the JCS.

They returned to the North after the South fired warning shots and broadcast warnings via loudspeakers, the JCS said, adding that the incursion appeared to have been “accidental,” with no unusual activity detected after the North Korean troops’ retreat.

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