South Korean and U.S. forces have downgraded their defensive alert against the North based on intelligence that Pyongyang has relaxed the standby status of military units on the west coast, a news report said on Friday.
The North Korean units, including artillery bases likely to have been involved in the shelling of a South Korean island on November 23, had been on special standby but now appear to be on routine operations, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said.
“We’re looking at whether these steps are linked to the conciliatory gestures coming from the North with its offer for talks,” Yonhap quoted the government source as saying.
South Korea’s Defense ministry and an official at the Combined Forces Command declined to confirm the report. “We do not discuss intelligence matters,” the official said.
Last year, tension reached some of its highest levels since the 1950-53 Korean War when a South Korean navy ship was sunk by a torpedo attack which Seoul blamed on the North, and the North bombed Yeonpyeong island in November.
The incidents, and threats of retaliation from both sides of the border, rattled financial markets. Some analysts said the risk of a broader conflict intensified, though full-scale war remains unlikely.