By Ju-min Park
SEOUL (Reuters) -North Korea vowed on Thursday to deploy stronger armed forces and new weapons on its border with the South, pulling back from a 2018 military accord designed to curb the risk of inadvertent clashes between two countries that remain technically at war.
Pyongyang's statement came a day after South Korea suspended part of the same inter-Korean agreement and resumed frontline aerial surveillance of North Korea in a protest over Pyongyang's launch of a spy satellite.
WHAT HAPPENED IN 2018?
The so-called Comprehensive Military Agreement (CMA) signed between the two Koreas was the most substantive deal to result from months of historic meetings between leader Kim Jong Un and then-South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
On Sept. 19, 2018, South Korea's defence minister and his North Korean counterpart signed the CMA in the North's capital, Pyongyang, accompanied by polite applause from the onlooking leaders.
Under the CMA, both countries agreed to "completely cease all hostile acts against each other" that are the source of military tension and conflict, by implementing military confidence-building measures in the air, land, and sea domains.
The measures included the two sides ending military drills near the border, banning live-fire exercises in certain areas, the imposition of no-fly zones, the removal of some guard posts along the Demilitarized Zone, and maintaining hotlines.
On the ground, both sides agreed to completely cease artillery drills and field training within 5 kilometres (3 miles) of the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) between the countries.
At sea, the two sides installed covers on the barrels of naval guns and coastal artillery and closed gun ports in a buffer zone along the sea border.
MILITARY DEAL IN DOUBT
With inter-Korean and denuclearisation talks long stalled, recent drills and shows of force along the fortified border between the Koreas have cast doubts on the future of the measures, which were meant to reduce tensions.
South Korea had accused Pyongyang of violating the agreement after North Korean artillery shells fell into a maritime buffer zone that was supposed to be free of live-fire drills under the agreement.
The North then said South Korea had resumed the use of propaganda loudspeakers at the border in violation of the agreement. South Korea denied the accusation.
Kim Myung-soo, nominee for South Korea's chairman of joint chiefs of staff, said last week that the 2018 agreement limited his military's surveillance of North Korea and live-fire drills near the maritime border.
DROP THE DEAL
Just as North Korea's launch of a spy satellite further ratcheted up tensions on the Korean peninsula, the two Koreas are walking away from a confidence-building pact aimed at cutting the risk of accidental military clashes.
South Korea's national security council said this week it planned to "suspend the effect of Article 1, Clause 3" of the 2018 military agreement, enabling Seoul to restore reconnaissance and surveillance activities along the border.
Under that clause, both countries agreed to establish no-fly zones close to their border.
South Korea's military had restarted aerial surveillance in border areas, which had been conducted before the agreement was signed, the defence ministry said.
South Korea said, however, its decisions on whether to take further actions to pull out of the military agreement would depend on the North's follow-up moves.
Meanwhile, North Korea said its army "will never be bound" by the pact, ripping up the agreement and vowing to restore all military measures it had halted under the 2018 deal.
(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Ed Davies and Gerry Doyle)