N Korea 'will turn South to ash'
MONDAY, MARCH 31, 2008 Al Jazeera
North Korea has threatened to turn its southern neighbour to "ashes" after South Korea's military chief said he would conduct a pre-emptive strike if the North tried to carry out a nuclear attack.
The warning is the latest outburst in an escalating war of words since South Korea's new president took office last month pledging a tougher line on relations with the North.
An unidentified military commentator was quoted as saying in the North's official Korean Central News Agency: "Our military will not sit idle until warmongers launch a pre-emptive strike.
"Everything will be in ashes, not just a sea of fire, once our advanced pre-emptive strike begins."
The warning comes as a South Korean newspaper said on Monday that North Korean fighter jets had been testing South Korean nerves by flying close to southern air space.
The report in the Chosun Ilbo newspaper said South Korean fighters had been scrambled at least 10 times in the past month in response to near incursions.
Last week, Kim Tae-young, the chairman of South Korea's joint chiefs of staff, told a parliamentary hearing that the military would strike a suspected North Korean nuclear weapons site if it believed the North was about to launch a nuclear attack.
In reports on state television on Monday North Korea's military said Kim's remarks would be seen as "tantamount to a declaration of war" if Seoul did not apologise.
North Korea has become increasingly angry over the tougher line taken by Lee Myung-bak, the South Korean president, since assuming office last month.
Lee's predecessors had sent billions of dollars in aid to the North, getting little in return, according to critics.
But the new president has said that if Pyongyang wants to keep receiving aid, it should improve its human rights record, abide by an international nuclear disarmament deal and start returning the more than 1,000 South Koreans captured or held since the 1950-53 Korean war.
The war ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty, leaving the two sides still technically at war.
Its latest comments come just before parliamentary elections next week in South Korea that could strengthen Lee's hand if conservative allies win control of the legislature.
The North has made similar statements in the past, usually in response to joint South Korean-US military drills. In 1994, a North Korean official threatened to turn Seoul into a "sea of fire".
Its comments also came ahead of a visit to South Korea by the chief US negotiator in stalled North Korean nuclear disarmament talks.
Christopher Hill was due to arrive in Seoul on Tuesday to speak at a forum and talk with South Korean officials.
On Thursday North Korea expelled South Koreans working at a joint factory park in the North after South Korea said it would hold off expanding the joint industrial zone until the dispute over Pyongyang's nuclear programmes was resolved.
The Kaeson industrial park, located on North Korean territory, had been hailed as a model of economic co-operation,
South Korea's defence ministry has said it will consider whether to send a response to the North over its demand for a retraction of Kim's pre-emptive strike statement.
A senior officer at the defence ministry said officials were working "to ensure the public would not worry about" the North's recent actions and statements, but did not elaborate.
North Korea warn of pre-emptive nuclear strike against neighbour
Leo Lewis In Tokyo March 31, 2008
An escalating war of words across the world’s last Cold War, nuclear-armed border spiraled dramatically yesterday when North Korea threatened to wreak total destruction on its neighbour to the south.
“Our military will not sit idle until warmongers launch a pre-emptive strike,” the official news agency in Pyongyang reported a senior military commander as saing, “everything will be in ashes, not just a sea of fire, if our advanced pre-emptive strike once begins.”
The threat was among the most direct and bellicose statements from Pyongyang since North Korea test-fired an atomic device in late 2006. International efforts since then to persuade the country’s enigmatic dictator, Kim Jong il, to abandon his weapons programme have repeatedly stalled.
The threat also marked a fourth day of rapidly deteriorating relations on the Korean peninsula, which remains technically still at war despite more than 50 years of often uncomfortable armistice.
The two countries – the prosperous, modern South and the unpredictable Stalinist Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) – continue to glare at one another across the world’s most heavily armed border.
A note sent by a North Korean military delegation to its South Korean counterpart on Saturday, said that “these outbursts are the gravest challenge ever in the history of the inter-Korean relations and a reckless provocation little short of a war declaration against the DPRK.”
Sunday’s warning followed remarks in Seoul earlier in the weekend in which the head of South Korea’s military vowed to conduct a pre-emptive strike on the suspected North Korean nuclear weapons site if Pyongyang tried to attack with atomic weapons.
The office of the chairman of the South’s joint chiefs of staff later explained that it was a statement of general principles, rather than a hint that the South was planning any unprovoked attack on the North. Pyongyang said that it would suspend all cross-border dialogue unless the remarks were withdrawn and an apology issued.
Although the communist regime of Kim Jong Il has regularly used this form of extreme language in the past, long-term North Korea experts said that its renewed appearance of the past few days should be treated with some caution.
The row, which has already seen 11 South Korean officials expelled from a joint economic “friendship” zone by the North, is thought to be a test by Pyongyang of the mettle of the new president in Seoul.
On Friday the DPRK test-fired a salvo of short-range missiles, reprising an act that has traditionally provoked outrage in Seoul and placed South Korean leaderships under immense domestic strain.
Lee Myung Bak was elected to the South Korean presidency in December last year on promises of a stronger economy. But he made little secret that his view towards North Korea and Kim Jong il would be far less conciliatory than his predecessor’s.
His response to the current escalation of tensions will be closely scrutinised on both sides of the demilitarized zone that splits the peninsula.
In addition to the deeper conflict over Pyongyang’s atomic weapons programme, the most recent row has ignited an argument over a line in the Yellow Sea that has never been recognised by North Korea: officials in Pyongyang said on Friday that “armed conflict may break out at any moment” over the boundary.