US military base blares false alarm amid North Korea concerns

US and South Korean soldiers taking part in a joint military exercise in Gangwon province, South Korea, on Nov 7, 2019.
US and South Korean soldiers taking part in a joint military exercise in Gangwon province, South Korea, on Nov 7, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (AP) - A US military base in South Korea accidentally blared an alert siren instead of a bugle call, causing a brief scare just as the US and its allies are monitoring for signs of a provocation from North Korea, which has warned it could send a "Christmas gift" over deadlocked nuclear negotiations.

The siren at Camp Casey, which is near the border with North Korea, went off by "human error" at around 10pm on Thursday (Dec 26), said Lieutenant-Colonel Martyn Crighton, a public affairs officer for the 2nd Infantry Division.

The operator immediately identified the mistake and alerted all units at the base of the false alarm, which did not interfere with any operations, Lt-Col Crighton said in an e-mail on Saturday.

The incident came a day before Japanese broadcaster NHK caused panic by mistakenly sending a news alert saying North Korea fired a missile over Japan that landed in the sea off the country's north-eastern island of Hokkaido early on Friday. The broadcaster apologised, saying the alert was for media training purposes.

North Korea has been dialling up pressure on Washington ahead of an end-of-year deadline issued by leader Kim Jong Un for the Trump administration to offer mutually acceptable terms for a nuclear deal.

There are concerns that Pyongyang could do something provocative if Washington doesn't back down and relieve sanctions imposed on the North's broken economy.

The North fired two missiles over Japan during a provocative run in weapons tests in 2017, which also included three flight tests of developmental intercontinental ballistic missiles that demonstrated potential capabilities to reach the US mainland.

Tensions eased after Mr Kim initiated diplomacy with Washington and Seoul in 2018 while looking to leverage his nukes for economic and security benefits.

But negotiations have faltered since a February summit between Mr Kim and US President Donald Trump broke down after the US side rejected North Korean demands for broad sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

 
 

In a statement issued earlier this month, North Korean senior diplomat Ri Thae Song asserted that the Trump administration was running out of time to salvage faltering nuclear negotiations, and said it's entirely up to the United States to choose what "Christmas gift" it gets from the North.

The North also in recent weeks said it conducted two "crucial" tests at a long-range rocket facility it said would strengthen its nuclear deterrent, prompting speculation that it's developing a new ICBM or preparing a satellite launch.