Wednesday, 24 April 2013

North Korean troops put down arms to plant crops

The North Korean side of the Demilitarised Zone is a hive of activity — not of fighting, but of farming. Beyond the barbed wire, ruddy-faced North Korean soldiers put down their rifles today and stood shoulder to shoulder with farmers as they turned their focus to another battle — the spring planting.

As neighbouring nations remain on guard for a missile launch or nuclear test that South Korean and US officials say could take place at any time, the focus north of the border is on planting rice, cabbage and soybeans. In hamlets all along the DMZ, soldiers were knee-deep in mud and water as they helped farmers with the spring planting. “From outside, it looks peaceful: Farmers are out in the fields, children are going to school,” he said. “But behind the scenes, they are getting ready for war. If the call comes, they’ll be ready to go to battle,” Colonel Kim Chang Jun said.

Since early March, North Korea has steadily ramped up the rhetoric warning of a nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula, though it has quieted in recent days.

South Korean defence officials say the North has moved missiles to the east coast, including a medium-range missile believed to be designed to strike US territory, but there has been no indication of when they might test-fire the weapon. Asked about North Korea’s plans to fire a missile, Lieutenant Colonel Nam said he didn’t know anything specific, adding with a chuckle, “That’s a national secret, top secret among secrets.

As diplomats conferred about how to bring down the tension and rein in an increasingly belligerent Pyongyang, Nam and Colonel Kim reiterated in interviews this week that North Koreans want peace.

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