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N. Korea could redeploy artillery, armored units to border areas: experts


North Korea could forward deploy artillery and armored units equipped with self-propelled guns and multiple rocket launchers if it sends troops to the inter-Korean industrial complex in the western border town of Kaesong and the Mount Kumgang tourism zone on the east coast, experts said Wednesday.

Earlier in the day, the North's General Staff of the Korean People's Army (KPA) issued a statement, saying that it will deploy regiment-level units and other necessary firepower sub-units with defense missions to the Kaesong Industrial Zone and Mt. Kumgang tourist area.

The most likely option for the North Korean military, according to experts, is the deployment of units that employ 170-millimeter self-propelled guns and 240-mm multiple rocket launchers in Kaesong, which are key military hardware for the North that could pose direct threats to the South's capital area.

North Korea's regiment-level unit usually has around 2,000 troops, they added.

The self-propelled guns have a flight range of 54 kilometers and can fire two rounds per minute. The 240-mm launcher can fire around 40 rounds of shells per minute, which are believed to travel 60 km or longer.

"Those conventional weapons use transporter erector launchers (TEL), which make them more difficult to detect and intercept. They have advantages in launching surprise attacks," said Shin Jong-woo, a senior analyst at the Korea Defense Security Forum in Seoul.

Kaesong is located around 40 kilometers away from Seoul.

Before setting up the industrial park, North Korea had stationed the Sixth Division, 64th Division and 62nd Artillery Brigade in Kaesong and the adjacent areas. Following the establishment, the North moved them around 16 kilometers behind.

The 62nd brigade was equipped with the 170-mm guns and 240-mm launchers. The 6th division, which played a role in advancing into the South's capital area during a battle of the 1950-53 Korean War, operated "Chonma-ho" tanks and other armored vehicles.

Kaesong had long been the North's key military foothold until the two Koreas set up the joint industrial complex in 2003. The complex was suspended in 2016 following the North's nuclear and missile provocations, and one of the main buildings inside the complex that harbors the liaison office was destroyed by North Korea on Tuesday.

North Korea showed off new short-range ballistic missiles last year, including its versions of Russia's Iskander and the US' Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS). But they do not appear to be in place in the border region, given their longer flight range.

The North's Iskander is believed to have a flight range of around 600 km, and ATACMS can fly around 400 km.

As for the Mount Kumgang area, the North could dispatch a naval unit that manages submarines around the nearby port of Jangjon, which harbored a military base before turning into the main gateway to the resort for South Korean tourists.

The submarine base was shut down in 2003, years after the tourism program was launched.

The tourism program began in 1998 and was halted in 2008 after a South Korean tourists was shot dead for allegedly trespassing in an off-limits area.

"Chances are that North Korea would tear down tourist facilities in the region and station tank and rocket forces," Shin noted. (Yonhap)