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Korean War - Further Northern Agression

Even after provoking the Korean War and wreaking fratricidal havoc on the nation, Pyongyang had not given up the policy of communizing the South by force of arms. The North has turned the whole country into a huge military barracks for use as the so-called "revolutionary base." After the division of the peninsula, North Korea used subversion and sabotage against South Korea as part of its effort to achieve reunification. North Korea was unsuccessful at developing a covert political infrastructure in South Korea or forging links with dissidents resident in South Korea, and after the early 1960s P'yongyang's efforts were unproductive.

Peacetime infiltration by North Korean agents was a fact of life in South Korea after the armistice in 1953. There were, however, clear shifts both in the number and method of infiltrations over the years and in their goals. Through the mid-1960s, P'yongyang sent agents primarily to gather intelligence and to try to build a covert political apparatus.

Starting in the fall of 1966, North Korea began pursuing a tougher, more aggressive policy toward South Korea and the US. Pyongyang deliberately heightened tensions along the DMZ, landed infiltration teams inside South Korea, and was more aggressive in shooting incidents involving South Korean fishing vessels and patrol boats. This policy was probably intended by the North Korean leadership primarily as a demonstration against US and ROK action in Vietnam.

Kim Il Sung embarked on a course of drastically increased conflict along lines proposed by Che Guevara. Based on the theory that the United States could not support more than one "Vietnam" at a time, he hoped to create a situation that would prevent the ROK from sending more troops to Vietnam. By 1967 a force of special agents, commandos, and guerrillas specialized for various locations in the ROK, averaging about 25,000 strong, was being trained and began operating into ROK. Action occurred throughout the country, at the DMZ and in mountainous regions in the Northeast and Southwest of ROK. The latter two were supported by sea infiltration, which constituted over 60 percent of the total. By late 1967 there had been vastly increased attempted penetrations, firefight incidents, and UNC casualties, all up about tenfold from 1966.

Kim Il-sung took advantage of US preoccupation with Vietnam by opening a "second Asian front". A total of 319 US and ROK soldiers were killed in action along the DMZ between 1966 and 1969. North Korean provocations against the South peaked in a period from the late 1960s through the mid-1970s, when North Korea seemingly had a relative edge over the South in terms of military and economic strength. This dramatic shift to violent attempts to destabilize South Korea included commando raids along the DMZ that occasionally escalated into firefights involving artillery. These raids peaked in 1968, when more than 600 infiltrations were reported, including an unsuccessful attempt at a commando attack on the Blue House in Seoul. The Pueblo was captured at sea and its crew taken captive, South Korean trains were blown up, infiltration tunnels were discovered under the DMZ, North Korean artillery fired on a South Korean barracks, an American barracks was dynamited, North Korean commandos attacked the "Blue House" in Seoul to assassinate South Korea's President, and attacks on American and ROK troops along the DMZ became commonplace.

One of the worst episodes occurred in the early morning hours of 2 November 1966 while President Lyndon Johnson was staying at Walker Hill Resort near Seoul. North Korean troops charged out of the DMZ, lobbing grenades and firing submachine guns at close range at an American squad. The patrol fought back fiercely, but in vain. PFC Ernest D. Reynolds, who had been in Korea for only 17 days, was posthumously recommended for the Medal of Honor for his tenacity in the ensuing hand-to-hand fighting (it was not awarded). The patrol's only survivor was 17 year old PFC David L Bibee who pretended death while North Koreans yanked off his wrist watch.

On 21 January 1968, 31 commandos from the North Korean 124th Unit, a special forces unit, made a daring incursion across the truce line into Segomjong, Seoul, to raid the Blue House, the presidential residence, and kill key government officials. The commandos, all in South Korean military uniform, were armed with submachine guns and hand grenades. The South Korean military and police quickly launched a counteraction, capturing one of the commandos, Kim Shin-jo, and killing the other 28.

Less than 48 hours after the raid on the Blue House, North Korean forces seized the U.S. intelligence-gathering vessel USS Pueblo on January 23 and arrested its crew. The United States protested the incidents at the UN Security Council and met with North Korean representatives at the Military Armistice Commission in Panmunjom in an attempt to gain release of the ship and crew.

Other major acts of North Korean provocation included the infiltration of more than 100 armed guerrillas into the Ulchin and Samch'ok areas along the east coast in November 1968.

In 1969 more than 150 infiltrations were attempted, involving almost 400 agents. In 1970 and 1974, agents attempted unsuccessfully to assassinate President Park. In the 1974 attempt, during an August 15 ceremony marking National Liberation Day at the National Theater in Seoul, the assassin's shots missed President Park but killed Mrs. Park.

Subsequently, P'yongyang's infiltration efforts abated somewhat, and the emphasis shifted back to intelligence gathering and covert networks. From the mid-1970s to the early 1980s, most North Korean infiltration was done by heavily armed reconnaissance teams, which increasingly were intercepted and neutralized by South Korean security forces. After shifting to infiltration by sea for a brief period in the 1980s, P'yongyang apparently discarded military reconnaissance in favor of inserting agents from third countries.

North Korea did not abandon violence, however, as was shown by the abortive 1982 attempt to recruit Canadian criminals to assassinate President Chun Doo Hwan, the 1983 Rangoon assassination attempt that killed seventeen South Korean government officials and four Burmese dignitaries, and the 1987 destruction of a Korean Air airliner with 115 people on board. In the airliner bombing, North Korea broke from its pattern of targeting South Korean government officials, in particular the president, and targeted ordinary citizens.

Other North Korean provocations included the axe-murders of two American officers at P'anmunjom in August 1976, the intrusion of a North Korean submarine near Kangnung in September 1996, and another such intrusion in June 1998.

In addition, North Korea has dug invasion tunnels across the Military Demarcation Line in the Demilitarized Zone in violation of the Armistice Agreement. One of the tunnels was detected by the South Korean troops in January 1974 and three others later. It is believed that North Korea has dug dozens of invasion tunnels in the buffer zone.

Technically, the peninsula remains in a state of war restrained by an armistice. The subject of replacing the armistice with a formal peace agreement was mentioned in the 1991 Agreement on Reconciliation, Nonaggression, Exchanges, and Cooperation between North Korea and South Korea, but remained unresolved by the end of the century.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 14:05:28 ZULU