South Korea DMZ
South Korean soldiers stand guard at a checkpoint on the Grand Unification Bridge which leads to the truce village Panmunjom, just south of the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, South Korea Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji

South Korea's new Defence Minister Song Young-moo on Saturday, 15 July, called on troops guarding the highly sensitive demilitarised zone (DMZ) to be ready to tackle any provocation from North Korea.

A day after taking office, Song visited the DMZ from the southern side of the border and met soldiers from South Korea and the US-led United Nations Command. A North Korean soldier on the northern side took the opportunity to click a photograph of Song.

According to a statement issued by South Korea's defence ministry, Song asked the soldiers to uphold the armistice between the two rivals, which came into force after the 1950-53 Korean War, by strengthening the US-South Korea military alliance.

Soon after Song became the defence minister, he pledged to beef up the South Korean forces amid increasing threats from the belligerent northern neighbour.

"In order to win the trust of the people, (the military) should go beyond a simple defence reform to create brand new armed forces," said Song. "The security environment surrounding the Korean peninsula is as grave as ever. Against such a backdrop, we should pass down to our next generations a strong military that can rely on itself for the defence of our own fate."

Tensions are running high in the Korean peninsula over North Korea's repeated ballistic missile launches despite an international outcry. Pyongyang's latest test-launch was an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on 4 July.