Seoul confirms that the two Korean armies exchanged short bursts of gunshots across the DMZ, one day before disarmament talks expected to set the procedure for permanently disabling the Yongbyon nuclear plant. The exchange could mean that Kim Jong-Il wants a way out of his agreement, or it could have more implications for the role of the DPRK military in the disarmament:
North and South Korea briefly exchanged gunshots on Monday in the first such skirmish on their heavily armed border in just over a year, a military official said.
There were no reports of any casualties.
"A few shots were fired from the North, and a few warning shots were fired (back) from this side," the official with the office of the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff told Reuters.
The shooting came a day before the start of working level talks among regional powers, including the two Koreas, in the South Korean side of the buffer zone that has divided the peninsula for more than half a century.
The talks are part of a wider international effort to persuade North Korea to end its nuclear weapons programme in exchange for aid.
South Korea says it has detected no changes in the readiness posture of the North after the shooting, which means that Kim wasn't looking to pick a fight. After all, it could have been an accident, or a case of one soldier losing control of himself. This could just be a bad coincidence.
If not, Reuters suggests that the exchange could have been intended to keep the DPRK's troops focused and disciplined. The agreement to disarm comes as a blow to the North, which had celebrated its nuclear test as a major achievement for the nation. Now that the Kim regime has agreed in principle to abandon the program, morale in the military rank and file could be dangerously low. A non-lethal exchange across the DMZ may give them something on which to focus.
Like everything else involving Kim Jong-Il, it's mystifying. Will it portend a reversal on the agreement? We should find out tomorrow, but it wouldn't be the first time Kim staged something like this to give himself an excuse to walk out of the talks.