Thursday, 30 June 2011

North Korea threatens 'retaliatory sacred war'

South Korean troops had used pictures of Kim Jong Il as target practice

North Korea has threatened to launch a "retaliatory sacred war" against South Korea after news emerged that southern soldiers had erected signs in military camps on the border slandering the North's “army, system and dignity”.
"This is little short of a clear declaration of war," a government spokesman said in the North's official Korean Central News Agency. "We will react to the enemy's provocation with a stern punishment and counter its war with a merciless retaliatory sacred war."
South Korea's Hankyoreh newspaper reported on Tuesday 28th June that some South Korean army units near the border had set up anti-North Korea slogans. One army unit in Cheolwon, a town near the demilitarized zone had a banner reading “Let's ram guns and swords into the chest of North Korean puppet soldiers!”

According to the newspaper, there were also signs saying “Let's hack the three Kims into pieces”, a reference to the late North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, his son and the current leader Kim Jong Il, and his grandson and heir-apparent Kim Jong Un.

The reference to the Kims is a particularly touchy subject at the moment, as North Korea threatened to attack last month after it emerged that South Korean troops were using photos of the family as targets during firing practice.

South Korea's Defence Ministry told military units to stop using the photos as targets in response to Pyongyang's reaction, but according to Time Magazine it has no immediate plans to stop troops from using anti-North Korean signs.

The Defence Ministry said some army units have taken such measures to bolster their soldiers' mental toughness against North Korea

Tensions have been high on the Korean peninsula since March 2010, when a South Korean warship was torpedoed, killing 46 sailors. A Seoul- and Washington-led international investigation found North Korea responsible, however Pyongyang has always denied its involvement.

A second incident occurred last November, when in response to South Korea carrying out live fire drills in disputed waters, North Korea shelled the South Korean border island of Yeonpyeong, killing four.

Despite the fact the two sides held talks on a stalled jointly-run tourism project at Mount Kumgang on Wednesday 29th June, Pyongyang has pledged to carry out unspecified military measures "mercilessly" until the South apologises for the signs.

While inflammatory rhetoric from both sides is nothing new, what makes the current situation alarming, according to the Guardian, is South Korea's hardline stance.

President Lee Myung-bak was criticised domestically for his supposedly weak response to the three previous incidents, and has threatened to respond harshly to any further attacks.

The South Korean military is preparing new rules of engagement which would allow its frontline troops to respond "robustly" to an attack without consulting Seoul, according to the Guardian.

There is also talk that instead of promising a "proportionate" response to North Korean aggression, it would chose an aggressive enough response to dissuade Pyongyang from further action.

South Korea has been upping its defensive capabilities in the border region, and have brought in Israeli-made Delilah missiles, which have a range of 150 miles: enough to hit Pyongyang.

Some analysts believe Pyongyang is upping the rhetoric because its offers to talks in the last few months have been ignored by the south.

"North Korea has been trying this peace offensive for the past seven months. Now is the time for the North Koreans to change their mode towards more a conflictual approach," a former South Korean official and government adviser predicted in the Guardian.

Some suspect Pyongyang will use a third nuclear test to get the other parties back to the negotiating table, but Seoul has said it will not return to talks until it recieves an apology for the previous incidents.

Sources: BBC News, the Guardian, Korea Herald, Time Magazine

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