So far just four of North Korea’s secret tunnels have been discovered, but South Korea suspects there could be 16 more. Tensions between the two traditional enemies have been rising lately, with South Korean officials fearing that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un could attack via the secret invasion routes.
The South Korean government suspects that North Korea has build up to 20 underground tunnels that could be used by Kim Jong-un to invade their country. Only four tunnels under the border between South and North Korea have been discovered so far.
North Korea has been stepping up its nuclear tests and military preparations lately, which only raises fears that Pyongyang could be plotting an all-out invasion. It’s been less than two months since North Korea made headlines by carrying out a series of massive nuclear bomb tests. The United Nations and the U.S. have already responded to the secretive nuclear-armed nation with a new round of sanctions.
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The tunnels could serve as a secondary and supportive means of attacking South Korea, while the primary method of attacking could be dropping nuclear bombs. South Korean officials fear that some tunnels can transport up to 30,000 North Korean troops per hour.
Searches the other suspected 16 more tunnels continue, but finding them is no easy task because North Korea could be building them anywhere along the 250km-long border.
What’s Kim’s “thing”: nuclear weapons or tunnels?
A South Korean border guard who has been inside the tunnels told The Daily Star that the tunnels are “supposed to be capable of transporting one infantry division an hour,” but the reality may not be as bad as that.
“That’s between 10,000 and 30,000 armed forces, but when you go down there you see it’s impossible,” the guard said.
The four tunnels that have been discovered so far don’t have the designs to transport such a huge number of troops per hour. However, other tunnels being allegedly built by the nuclear-armed nation could be more advanced than that.
It’s been two years since the South Korean government announced it was still searching for new North Korean tunnels under the demilitarized zone along the border. But the searches have been futile so far, as the last tunnel was discovered nearly three decades ago in 1990. That could suggest two things: either North Korea gave up building new tunnels and focused on developing unmatched nuclear weapons, or the nation is very good at hiding them.
The first tunnel discovered by South Korea was found a mile into its territory in 1974. While experts estimated only up to 2,000 troops an hour could be transported via that tunnel, it was more dangerous than that. When investigating the tunnel, a U.S. officer and South Korean soldier were killed when a bomb went off.
North Korea’s “tough response” to new sanctions
Less than a year later, in 1975, South Koreans discovered a second purpose-built passage. It raised fears that there could be dozens more tunnels. About three years later – in 1978 – further searches revealed a much deeper third invasion route. While fears there could be many more tunnels still exist, one of the tunnels now serves as a tourist site. However, South Korean officials claim it’s closely guarded.
The news about the tunnels comes just days after the U.S. announced a new round of sanctions against Pyongyang in the wake of its nuclear tests in September. The sanctions are aimed at cutting off money to the country and countering its “provocative behavior.”
U.S. sanctions came in support of the UN sanctions designed to cut off foreign trade revenue from North Korea’s nuclear program. Pyongyang is enraged about the new sanctions and called the UN actions an “abuse of power.”
Furthermore, North Korea has pledged to meet the UN and U.S. sanctions with a tough response, without elaborating on what that might mean. The U.S. sanctions attacked 16 entities and seven individuals for their suspected ties to North Korea’s nuclear program.
South Korea’s forces on high alert amid Trump’s transition
South Korea, which remains the most vulnerable state to North Korea’s potential nuclear attacks, is keeping its military on high alert in the wake of Kim Jong-un’s provocative behavior. Seoul has instructed its forces to be prepared for any provocations from North Korea. Ramped-up defense efforts by South Korea also serve as preventative measures against the North’s attempts to flex its muscles during the Presidential transition period in the U.S.
According to information obtained by South Korean officials, North Korea is preparing to test its intermediate-range ballistic missiles in January, when U.S. President-elect Donald Trump will be sworn in as President of the United States. Not only is it a direct response to Trump’s presidency, but also a warning to both Washington and Seoul that Pyongyang won’t stop developing its nuclear program.
“We are closely monitoring North Korea’s military moves as it might misinterpret political trouble in the South and the power transition period in the US as a good opportunity to provoke,” Jeon Ha-kyu, spokesperson for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters, according to the International Business Times.
Trump and North Korea: friends or enemies?
Tensions on the Korean peninsula have heightened since North Korea threatened to meet UN and U.S. sanctions with a tough response. Just days ago, the nuclear-armed country carried out military drills close to the South Korean border, where Kim Jong-un’s forces showed simulated attacks on South’s key positions.
“If a war breaks out, such a deadly strike should be inflicted upon the South Korean forces to completely break their will of counteraction at the start and make a clean sweep of them,” Kim Jong-un warned earlier, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency.
November was a very stressful month for South Korea because the North Korean leader carried out at least nine field visits with front-line military units. North Korea has been ramping up its provocations, and in 2016 alone, it has carried out two nuclear detonations and several other missile tests, all of which violate UN regulations.
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has yet to roll out his policy on the Korean peninsula, as he has previously made contradictory comments about North Korea. Although Trump has said he wouldn’t mind negotiating with Kim Jong-un, he later called the North Korean leader a “madman” he wants to “disappear.”