NewsNorth Korea's border wall raises fears of armistice breach

North Korea's border wall raises fears of armistice breach

What is Kim Jong Un up to? Disturbing pictures from the border
What is Kim Jong Un up to? Disturbing pictures from the border
Images source: © Getty Images
Mateusz Kaluga

21 June 2024 07:44

The BBC has obtained satellite images of the border between North and South Korea. The area in the demilitarised zone has been cleared, which experts believe could signify a breach of the longstanding truce. What is Kim Jong Un preparing?

The BBC analysed new satellite images. North Korea appears to be constructing sections of what looks like a wall. This is happening in several locations near the border with South Korea.

It is unclear when the construction might have begun, but the BBC notes that in images from November 2023, no new clearings were visible.

The buffer zone between the two countries is about 4 kilometres. It is divided into two parts so that each country can control its section. Theoretically, the countries are technically at war because they never signed a peace treaty. The Korean War ended in 1953 with only an armistice agreement.

At this moment, we can only speculate that North Korea intends to strengthen its military presence and fortifications along the border, says the BBC's Shreyas Reddy, a correspondent for the specialised news service NK News based in Seoul.

Is North Korea looking to breach the armistice?

The BBC requested security experts to assess the satellite images.

"My personal assessment is that this is the first time they've ever built a barrier in the sense of separating places from each other," says Dr. Uk Yang, a military and defense expert at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul. "Back in the 1990s, North Korea had set up the anti-tank walls to deter the advance of tanks in case war broke out. But recently, North Korea has been setting up walls 2-3m high, and they don't look like the anti-tank walls," adds the specialist.

The land clearing could be intended for both military and non-military aspects, says Kil Joo Ban, a professor of international security at Korea University. North Korea can monitor military activities in South Korea and detect 'defectors' trying to cross the border into South Korea.

"It is unusual to build structures in the DMZ and may be a violation of the armistice without prior consultation," says Professor Victor Cha, Senior Vice President for Asia and Korea at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

North Korea doesn’t really need more barriers to prevent a strike from the South but by erecting these border barriers, the North is signalling that it doesn’t seek reunification, says Dr. Ramon Pacheco Pardo, head of European and international studies at King's College London.

Tensions between North and South Korea

In 2024, Kim Jong Un declared that he rejected the idea of Korean reunification and called for South Korea to be labeled as an "enemy" country in the constitution.

He ordered the demolition of the Arch of Reunification in Pyongyang and other symbols reminding them of their southern neighbor and expedited military preparations for a "war that could start at any moment." Institutions working towards reunification have also ceased operations in the country.

In recent days, North Korea has strengthened ties with Russia, and Vladimir Putin visited the country. The leaders of both nations assured that they would provide mutual assistance in the event of aggression against their territory. Experts expect provocations from North Korea towards the South.

Related content