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Tensions Increase Between North and South Korea


South Korean army soldiers work on equipment used for propaganda broadcasts near the border area between South Korea and North Korea in Yeoncheon, South Korea, Friday, Jan. 8, 2016.

South Korean army soldiers work on equipment used for propaganda broadcasts near the border area between South Korea and North Korea in Yeoncheon, South Korea, Friday, Jan. 8, 2016.


Tensions between North and South Korea have increased sharply since the North’s announcement that it tested a nuclear weapon for the fourth time.

North Korea claimed that it conducted a nuclear test around January 6. That ended a short time of cooperation.

Both sides have avoided direct military actions that could quickly start a war. But each has taken steps to show their military strength.

South Korean officials said an unmanned plane, or drone, crossed into South Korea on Wednesday, across the heavily-guarded border. South Korean forces fired about 20 shots at it, but reportedly did not hit it.

A spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the South Korean military said the military warned the drone to leave the area, then fired warning shots. He said it then quickly returned to the northern side of the border.

There have also been reports this week that printed propaganda materials that support North Korea have been dropped in the South Korean capital Seoul and neighboring areas by a large balloon from the North.

Ahn Chan-il fled the North. He now works as a North Korea expert at the World Institute for North Korean Studies in Seoul. He says there is no worry that the propaganda will affect people living in the South. He noted that the South has a far larger and more successful economy and is a democracy.

He says “South Koreans have a high-level psychological understanding about North Korea. Even if (North Korean dictator) Kim Jong Un brags about conducting a fourth nuclear test, South Koreans will not be” angered or influenced.

​Activists in the South have used balloons to send propaganda against Kim Jong Un to the North. They also have sent DVDs that have South Korean television programs and other news. Such materials are banned in North Korea.

Last year the two sides reached an agreement to end actions that increased tensions. South Korea stopped activists from using balloons to send information to North Korea. And the agreement permitted families that had been separated by the division of the peninsula after World War II to be reunited.

But when the North announced its nuclear test earlier this month, the South restarted its anti-North Korea broadcasts at the border. The border is also called the demilitarized zone, or DMZ.

On Thursday, South Korea’s defense ministry said it is preparing to place large signs or electronic billboards -- similar to those used in sports centers -- in the DMZ. South Korea last used the billboards in 2004. They showed messages such as “Come Over to the Republic of Korea.”

Diplomats from the United States, Japan and South Korea met in Seoul on Tuesday to talk about working together to develop economic restrictions, or sanctions, on North Korea. They want the sanctions to punish the North and gain the support of China.

Sung Kim is the United States Special Representative for North Korea policy. He said he hopes Chinese leaders “agree with us that we simply cannot take the business-as-usual approach to this latest provocation. We will be working very closely with them to come up with a meaningful resolution.”

China supports North Korea economically. Without Chinese support, any sanctions will have little effect.

I’m Christopher Jones-Cruise.

VOA's Brian Padden reported on this story from Seoul, with help from producer Youmi Kim. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted the report for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

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Words in This Story

psychological - adj. of or related to the mind

conduct – v. to plan and do (something, such as an activity)

brag – v. to talk about yourself, your achievements, your family, etc., in a way that shows too much pride (often + about)

defect – v. to leave a country, political party, organization, etc., and go to a different one that is a competitor or an enemy

billboard – n. a large sign for advertisements that is next to a road, on the side of a building, in a sports center, etc.

sanctions – n. an action that is taken or an order that is given to force a country to obey international laws by limiting or stopping trade with that country, by not allowing economic aid for that country, etc. (usually plural)

business-as-usual – expression used to say that something is working or continuing in the normal or usual way

provocation – n. an action or occurrence that causes someone to become angry or to begin to do something

reluctant – adj. feeling or showing doubt about doing something; not willing or eager to do something

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