North Korea threatened to wage a “sacred war” using nuclear weapons if attacked as South Korea held a military exercise with jet fighters and mobile artillery near the Demilitarized Zone that separates the countries.
About 800 troops joined the 42-minute drill yesterday in Pocheon, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the border with North Korea, according to a pool report provided to journalists. The exercise followed live-firing on Nov. 23 into waters North Korea claims are its territory and which sparked a barrage of a South Korean island in which four people died.
North Korea accused the South of pushing the peninsula to the brink of war with “grave military provocation,” the official Korean Central News Agency reported, quoting Kim Yong Chun, the minister of its People’s Armed Forces. North Korea makes repeated claims that military maneuvers by South Korea and its U.S. allies are preparations for a full-scale invasion.
North Korea is “fully prepared to launch a sacred war of justice of Korean style based on the nuclear deterrent at anytime necessary to cope with enemies’ actions,” KCNA quoted Kim as saying. “Should the enemies intrude into the sky, land and seas of the DPRK even 0.001 mm, the KPA will as ever continue dealing more devastating physical blows at them,” Kim said, using the official acronym for North Korea.
The Nov. 23 drill by South Korea took place on Yeonpyeong, one of a group of islands that are dotted around North Korea’s Ongjin peninsula. The military demarcation line drawn up to separate the two countries at the end of the 1950-1953 Korean War isn’t recognized by the North, which claims the islands are in its territorial waters. South Korea’s latest exercise, while close to the border, took place in an undisputed area.
“Unfortunately, North Korea is back to its old belligerent tricks,” State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said in message posted on Twitter. “We need constructive actions, not heated rhetoric from North Korea.”
Yesterday’s exercise followed maneuvers involving South Korean marines that started Dec. 22 in waters near the eastern sea border. Defense Minister Kim Kwan Jin said on Dec. 21 that the military will remain on alert even after another artillery drill on Yeonpyeong Island ended on Dec. 20 without retaliation from the North.
‘Still a Tinderbox’
Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who visited North Korea earlier this week, told the Associated Press that the threat of renewed violence between the two countries remained.
“The situation is still a tinderbox,” Richardson, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Clinton administration, said in an interview with AP. “There’s still enormous tension, enormous mistrust, and I believe diplomacy is what is needed to get us out of this tinderbox.”
The equipment involved in the exercises in Pocheon, north of the capital of Seoul, included 30 K-1 tanks, 11 K-200 armored personnel carriers, two F-15K jets, 36 K-9 artillery pieces, three multiple long-range rockets, three AH-1S cobra helicopters and other equipment, the pool report said.
The military is considering lowering alert levels in some border areas, said an official at the Joint Chiefs of Staff who declined to be named because of military policy. He declined to provide details including the names of regions and whether the military noticed any easing of tension with North Korea.
South Korea kept the alert level at the highest stage of “Jindo Dog 1” since North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong, killing two marines and two civilians.
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