Seoul: North Korea has deployed faster, more powerful tanks near the border with rival South Korea and increased its special forces by 20,000 over the past two years, a major military review said on Thursday.
The report, released every two years by South Korea`s Defence Ministry, shows a significant boost in the threat from North Korea`s military and comes amid lingering tension following a North Korean artillery attack on a front-line island last month that killed four people.
The document says the North intends to rely on its nuclear program, special forces, long-range artillery, submarines and cyber warfare forces as a counterweight to South Korea`s high-tech conventional military.
North Korea has 200,000 special operations forces, the report says, an increase from 180,000 in the ministry`s last previous assessment in 2008. Those forces are aimed at carrying out assassinations and infiltrating and disrupting key facilities in South Korea, it said.
The North`s Army deploys many of its 13,600 long-range artillery guns along the Demilitarized Zone, ready to launch surprise artillery barrages on Seoul and its adjacent areas, the document said. Seoul is only about 30 miles (50 kilometres) away from the border.
The country also has developed a new kind of battle tank with better firepower and mobility than previous ones and the modern tanks have been deployed near the border, it said.
The North`s authoritarian leader Kim Jong-Il has made a priority of trying to build up military power superior to the South`s and its forces "are posing a serious threat to South Korea`s military”, the document said.
However, despite the North`s asymmetrical forces, experts say there is little likelihood that North Korea would launch an all-out war against South Korea, whose military is bolstered by 28,500 American troops in the country. The US has repeatedly promised to keep South Korea under its nuclear umbrella.
The two Koreas are still technically at war because their 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.
Tension between the rivals sharply rose in the wake of March`s deadly sinking of a South Korean warship blamed on Pyongyang and last month`s artillery barrage on Yeonpyeong Island. The ship sinking killed forty-six South Korean sailors. The North has denied its involvement.