North Korea in a 'state of war'

SEOUL - North Korea warned Seoul on Saturday that the Korean Peninsula had entered "a state of war" and threatened to shut down a border factory complex, the last major symbol of inter-Korean cooperation.

  • Published: 30/03/2013 at 10:39 PM
  • Newspaper section: topstories

One of a series of photos released by the offical North Korean Central News Agency shows a gathering at Kim Il-Sung Square in Pyongyang to support the pronouncement of war.

Analysts say a full-scale conflict is extremely unlikely, noting that the Korean Peninsula has remained in a technical state of war for 60 years. But the North's continued threats toward Seoul and Washington, including a vow to launch a nuclear strike, have raised worries that a misjudgment between the sides could lead to a clash.

US defence officials said that the North's bantering is destructive.

North Korea's threats are seen as efforts to provoke the new government in Seoul, led by President Park Geun-hye, to change its policies toward Pyongyang, and to win diplomatic talks with Washington that could get it more aid. North Korea's moves are also seen as ways to build domestic unity as young leader Kim Jong Un strengthens his military credentials.

On Thursday, US military officials revealed that two B2 stealth bombers dropped dummy munitions on an uninhabited South Korean island as part of annual defence drills that Pyongyang sees as rehearsals for invasion. Hours later, Kim Jong-Un ordered his generals to put rockets on standby and threatened to strike American targets if provoked.

North Korea said in a statement Saturday that it would deal with South Korea according to "wartime regulations" and would retaliate against any provocations by the United States and South Korea without notice.

"Now that the revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK have entered into an actual military action, the inter-Korean relations have naturally entered the state of war," said the statement, which was carried by Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency.

Provocations "will not be limited to a local war, but develop into an all-out war, a nuclear war," the statement said.

"This is troubling rhetoric that disrupts the prospects for peace on the Peninsula," a senior US official said.

Some observers have suggested that Washington is adding to tensions in the region by drawing attention to its displays of military strength on North Korea's doorstep, such as the flights by the B2 stealth bombers.

New Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel argued against that assertion.

"We, the United States and South Korea, have not been involved in provocating anything," he said. "We, over the years, have been engaged with South Korea on joint exercises. The B2 flight was part of that."

Washington and its allies "are committed to a pathway to peace," Mr Hagel said. "And the North Koreans seem to be headed in a different direction here."

Hours after the "state of war" statement, Pyongyang threatened to shut down the jointly run Kaesong industrial park, expressing anger over media reports suggesting the complex remained open because it was a source of hard currency for the impoverished North.

"If the puppet group seeks to tarnish the image of the DPRK even a bit, while speaking of the zone whose operation has been barely maintained, we will shut down the zone without mercy," an identified spokesman for the North's office controlling Kaesong said in comments carried by KCNA.

South Korea's Unification Ministry responded by calling the North Korean threat "unhelpful" to the countries' already frayed relations and vowed to ensure the safety of hundreds of South Korean managers who cross the border to their jobs in Kaesong. It did not elaborate.

South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok said the country's military remains mindful of the possibility that increasing North Korean drills near the border could lead to an actual provocation.

"The series of North Korean threats - announcing all-out war, scrapping the cease-fire agreement and the non-aggression agreement between the South and the North, cutting the military hotline, entering into combat posture No 1 and entering a 'state of war' — are unacceptable and harm the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula," Mr Kim said.

On the streets of Seoul on Saturday, South Koreans said they were not worried about an attack from North Korea.

"From other countries' point of view, it may seem like an extremely urgent situation," said Kang Tae-hwan, a private tutor. "But South Koreans don't seem to be that nervous because we've heard these threats from the North before."

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