By Lee Tae-hoon
The South Korean military placed all its military units on emergency alert Monday and beefed up its monitoring activities along the border following the announcement of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's death.
“The military raised its alert level from three to two at all installations and increased monitoring along the heavily fortified border with the North,” a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.
He added the military has deployed its two airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) “Peace Eye” aircraft and other surveillance assets such as RF-4 reconnaissance jets.
"We're closely watching the Demilitarized Zone, Joint Security Area and Northern Limit Line for possible provocations by North Korea," another JCS official said.
The JCS assured that there was no unusual activity; but later acknowledged that Pyongyang launched a short-range missile into waters off its east coast.
“The North test-fired a missile Monday morning,” a military official said.
However, he downplayed its significance, saying the incident was irrelevant to the death of Kim and the military was fully aware of the North’s move in advance.
Analysts said the North pushed ahead with the scheduled launch of the missile to show that the Stalinist regime remains under the full control of its military leadership.
JCS Chairman Gen. Jung Seung-jo and Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of the U.S. Forces in Korea (USFK), agreed not to raise the Combined Services Command’s “Watchcon” and “Defcon” levels to avoid provoking the North.
Watchcon is an anti-North Korea surveillance alert and Defcon is a defense readiness status.
"The two generals decided South Korea and the United States should not create an unnecessary sense of crisis," a military official said.
Watchcon was raised to two in the wake of the North’s artillery shelling of Yeonpyeong Island on Nov. 23 last year that claimed the lives of four South Koreans, including two civilians.
He said Seoul has requested the USFK to increase their monitoring activities on the Stalinist North through the use of its U-2 spy planes and KH-11 spy satellite.
The National Police Agency (NPA) also instructed officers nationwide to beef up patrolling activities, especially for a possible terrorist attack near military units and key facilities.
All police officers, including riot police, are on full alert. The NPA has reportedly instructed all senior police officers to be on standby and not to leave their units in order to promptly respond to emergencies.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also placed its overseas diplomatic missions on emergency standby.