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U.S., South Korean officials plan for hostage crisis as tensions mount

South Korean leaders said on Thursday that they were preparing for a possible hostage situation at a joint industrial park in North Korea, as tensions between the two nations continued to escalate following a torpedo attack in March.

The South’s defense minister told journalists in Seoul that the government was working closely with U.S. officials on a contingency plan for a possible hostage crisis at the Gaeseong Industrial Complex, which hosts about 1,000 South Korean civilians on weekdays, according to The Korea Times:

“There is a possibility that South Korean workers may be held at the Gaeseong site, so the government is discussing countermeasures with the United States,” Minister of National Defense Kim Tae-young said during a breakfast meeting with senior journalists at the ministry in Seoul.

Kim didn’t elaborate on what kind of scenarios and course of joint military action were being talked about.

Relations between North and South Korea continued to deteriorate on Thursday after the North suspended an agreement designed to prevent accidental naval clashes in the Western waters off the Korean peninsula, according to South Korea’s semi-official Yonhap News Agency. As a result, South Korean military leaders and U.S. forces on the Korean Peninsula raised the five-level “Watch Condition” alert system.

U.S. officials visiting China, meanwhile, continue to push for an international response and round up the support necessary for a new round of economic sanctions on North Korea in the U.N. Security Council. So far, Chinese leaders have remained conspicuously silent.

Russia, too, seems unlikely to support a new round of sanctions for the North, according to the official Russian news agency, RIA Novosti. Experts there on Thursday questioned the veracity of South Korea’s claim that the North was behind the sinking of one of its warships, which left 46 people dead. They added that any U.S.-led effort to impose new sanctions through the Security Council would be unlikely to succeed:

“Even if this issue is introduced for a UN Security Council decision, it [the council] will be reserved,” another expert on Korea, Georgy Toloraya, said, adding that the issue would not involve international sanctions.

“Introducing this issue to the UN Security Council for discussion will bring about more questions than answers,” Leshakov added.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, meanwhile, told reporters on Thursday that the Chinese government hoped to avoid further escalation on the Korean peninsula, according to the Xinhua state news agency.

“Proper handling of the issue is conducive to peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu told reporters. “We always believe that dialogue is better than confrontation and eased situation better than tension.”