The risk of conflict remains serious on the Korean Peninsula, especially near their western sea border, as the South Korean government maintains a tough policy line towards the North ahead of a year of general and presidential elections, an international security think tank said Thursday.
The International Crisis Group (ICG), a nongovernmental research institute, warned that "relations on the peninsula remain tense... The disputed maritime area remains a flashpoint that could spark new clashes."
The two Koreas had several naval skirmishes in the Yellow Sea around the Northern Limit Line (NLL), which Seoul views as the sea border but Pyongyang refuses to accept.
In 2010, a submarine from the North torpedoed a South Korean warship patrolling the area, killing 46 sailors, followed by a deadly shelling across the NLL.
The Brussels-based ICG, however, said South Korea seems to be shifting towards a more conciliatory stance as it enters an election season.
"North-South relations have played a role in past polls: both sides have attempted to use insecurity to influence results," Daniel Pinkston, ICG's North East Asia deputy project director, said in a report.
Although voters tend to favor more hawkish policies in times of insecurity, the South's conservative ruling party is facing the paradox that voters may blame President Lee Myung-bak's tough policy for the increased tensions, he added.
Robert Templer, the organization's Asia program director, also said, "North Korea policy is not a prominent issue for the average voter unless a sudden and serious inter-Korean crisis emerges around the time of the elections."
Meanwhile, South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin reaffirmed that his troops will deal sternly with any future North Korean attacks.
He said the communist neighbor may resort to provocations to handle political instability that can arise from the ongoing power succession process as well as economic difficulties and public discontent.
"To address these issues and find some breakthrough, the North may again resort to provocations against the South," Kim said in a meeting with top commanders in Seoul earlier Thursday.(Yonhap-Washington)