North Korean delegates at cross-border military talks in the truce village of Panmunjom last Thursday offered to move their long-range artillery pieces from the military demarcation line to rear areas, a source said Sunday.
The Defense Ministry denied it, but the source said, "The North Korean delegates brought it up first as a matter of principle." This would go a long way toward reducing military tensions. It is not known why the North made the offer or what it expects in return.
The North has deployed about 1,000 artillery guns near the MDL. Some 330 are trained on the Seoul region, including six battalions of 170-mm self-propelled artillery guns with a range of 54 km and some 10 battalions of 240-mm multiple rocket launchers with a range of 60 km.
The launchers are hidden in tunnels in ordinary times but can be moved out quickly to fire shells. A diplomatic source said, "This may be an attempt to maintain the momentum of the U.S.-North Korea summit."
But the North is unlikely to have attached no conditions. It probably demanded that South Korea and the U.S. also move their frontline artillery guns to rear areas.
Some commentators downplayed the threat the North Korean artillery poses. One retired general said, "Many people think that the North Korean artillery attacks could turn the Seoul area into ashes in just a few hours, but that's based on the assumption of the South Korean military giving no response at all."
Shin Won-shik, a former operations chief at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, "Long-range artillery guns are not as effective as in the past. Our military is also developing a missile defense system. If the South Korean and U.S. artillery guns are removed to rear areas, we will be deprived of effective frontline defense in an emergency."
The issue is expected to be discussed in the next cross-border talks.
The North Korean Army fires artillery guns during a drill, in this picture from the [North] Korean Central News Agency in March 2016. /Yonhap