North Korea makes nuclear threat in standoff with South


SEOUL – North Korea warned on Thursday of a “sacred war” against the South using its nuclear deterrent as South Korean President Lee Myung-bak vowed a merciless counterattack if southern territory is attacked again.
Both sides raised the rhetoric on a day South Korea launched major land and sea military exercises, prompting North Korea, which has threatened to reduce the South to ashes on many occasions, to denounce its richer neighbour as a warmonger.
“To counter the enemy’s intentional drive to push the situation to the brink of war, our revolutionary forces are making preparations to begin a sacred war at any moment necessary based on nuclear deterrent,” North Korea’s KCNA news agency quoted Minister of Armed Forces Kim Yong-chun telling a rally.
North Korea has wielded the threat of its nuclear deterrent before, despite analysts saying it has no way to launch a nuclear device. Tension reached a peak last month when North Korea shelled a southern island, Yeonpyeong, killing four people, in response to the South’s live-fire drill in what the North said were its waters.
The North has since made a conciliatory gesture, offering to re-admit UN nuclear inspectors worried about its nuclear weapons programme. “We’ve seen North Korea flip-flop from threatening the South with nuclear war before the military exercises, then a day later ignore that the exercises took place, launch a peace initiative, and now, just days later, once again threaten with nuclear war,” said Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“The flip-flopping is part of North Korea’s tactic to keep everyone guessing and off balance. They also may have been taken aback by the cool and measured international response which greeted their offer of renewed IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) inspections.” Lee said on a tour of a South Korean forward army base overlooking North Korea that the South would not relax its readiness to counter any further aggression.
“We had believed patience would ensure peace on this land, but that was not the case,” Lee, criticised for a perceived earlier weak response to North Korean attacks, told troops. South Korea held a major land drill in the Pocheon region, between Seoul and the heavily armed demilitarised zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas. It also continued naval live-fire exercises 100 km (60 miles) south of the maritime border.
The drill involves a larger scale of firepower and personnel than usual for an exercise at the army training ground, a further indication that Lee wants to show the public his government can stand up to the North. A large contingent of mechanised units operating tanks, three dozen self-propelled artillery, fighter jets and multiple rocket launchers, took part in the live-fire drill just miles from the border. It lasted just less than an hour.
Lee has replaced his top defence officials with more hawkish military men, a response to criticism of his response to hostile acts, including an attack on a ship in March blamed on the North and the shelling of Yeonpyeong. “We are facing a crisis because of North Korea, so I came to see this air and ground operation. I want to feel and see the level of South Korea’s armed forces,” said Kim Tae-dong, a 70-year-old internet businessman, in Pocheon.