Filed under: Uncategorized
Pyongyang steps up bellicose rhetoric as Red Cross hotline also halted in retaliation for UN sanctions over North’s nuclear tests
North Korean state media says Pyongyang has carried out a threat to cancel the 60-year-old armistice that ended the Korean war, as it and South Korea stage duelling war games amid increasingly threatening rhetoric.
Enraged over the South’s joint military drills with the US and recent UN sanctions, Pyongyang has piled threat on top of threat, including vows to launch a nuclear strike on the US. Seoul has responded with tough talk of its own and has placed its troops on high alert.
The North Korean government made no formal announcement about its repeated threats to scrap the armistice, but the country’s main newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, reported that the armistice was nullified on Monday as Pyongyang had announced it would be.
The North also followed through on another promise – shutting down a Red Cross hotline that the North and South used for general communication and to discuss aid shipments and separated families’ reunions.
The 11-day military drills that started on Monday involve 10,000 South Korean and about 3,000 American troops. Those coincide with two months of separate US-South Korean field exercises that began on 1 March.
Also continuing are large-scale North Korean drills that Seoul says involve the army, navy and air force. The South Korean defence ministry said there had been no suspicious military activities.
The North has threatened to nullify the armistice several times and in 1996 the country sent hundreds of armed troops into a border village. The troops later withdrew.
Despite the heightened tension, there were signs of business as usual on Monday.
Both Koreas continue to have at least two working channels of communication between their military and aviation authorities.
One of those hotlines was used on Monday to give hundreds of South Koreans approval to enter North Korea to go to work. Their jobs are at the only remaining operational symbol of joint inter-Korean co-operation, the Kaesong industrial complex. It is operated in North Korea with South Korean money and a mostly North Korean workforce.
The North Korean rhetoric escalated as the UN security council last week approved a new round of sanctions over Pyongyang’s latest nuclear weapons test on 12 February.
Analysts said that much of the bellicosity was meant to shore up loyalty among citizens and the military for North Korea’s young leader, Kim Jong-un.
“This is part of their brinksmanship,” said Daniel Pinkston, a Seoul-based expert on North Korea with the International Crisis Group thinktank. “It’s an effort to signal their resolve, to show they are willing to take greater risks, with the expectation that everyone else caves in and gives them what they want.”
Part of what North Korea wants is a formal peace treaty to end the Korean war, instead of the armistice that leaves the peninsula still technically in a state of war. It also wants security guarantees and other concessions, direct talks with Washington, recognition as a nuclear weapons state and the removal of 28,500 US troops stationed in South Korea.
Pinkston said there was little chance of fighting breaking out while war games were being conducted, but added that he expected North Korea to follow through with a promise to respond at a time and place of its own choosing.
North Korea was responsible for an artillery attack that killed four South Koreans in 2010. A South Korean-led international investigation found that North Korea torpedoed a South Korean warship that same year, killing 46 sailors. Pyongyang denies sinking the ship.
Among other threats in the past week, North Korea has warned Seoul of a nuclear war on the divided peninsula and said it was cancelling non-aggression pacts.
South Korean and US officials have been closely monitoring Pyongyang’s actions.
One analyst said Kaesong’s continued operations show that North Korea’s cutting of the Red Cross communication channel was symbolic. More than 840 South Koreans were due to cross the border on Monday to Kaesong, which provides a badly needed flow of hard currency to a country where many face food shortages, according to Seoul’s unification ministry.
Hong Hyun-ik, an analyst at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea, said North Korea would suffer financially if South Koreans did not go to work at Kaesong. “If North Korea really intends to start a war with South Korea, it could have taken South Koreans at Kaesong hostage,” he said.
Under the new president, Park Geun-hye, South Korea’s defence ministry has looked to send a message of strength in response to the latest comments from Pyongyang.
The ministry has warned that the North’s government would “evaporate from the face of the Earth” if it ever used a nuclear weapon. The White House said the US was fully capable of defending itself against a North Korean ballistic attack.
On Monday Park told a cabinet meeting South Korea should strongly respond to any provocation by North Korea. But she also said Seoul should move ahead with her campaign promise to build up trust with the North.
North Korea claims the US mainland is within reach of its long-range missiles. An army general told a Pyongyang rally last week the military was ready to fire a long-range nuclear-armed missile to turn Washington into a “sea of fire”.
While foreign scientists are still trying to determine specifics, the North’s rocket test in December and third atomic bomb test last month may have pushed the country a step closer to acquiring the ability to hit the US with weapons of mass destruction. Analysts, however, say Pyongyang is still years away from acquiring the smaller, lighter nuclear warheads needed for a credible nuclear missile programme.
But there are still worries about a smaller conflict, and analysts have said that more missile and nuclear tests are possible reactions by North Korea.
North Korea has a variety of missiles and other weapons capable of striking South Korea. Both the warship-sinking and island-shelling in 2010 occurred near a western sea boundary between the Koreas that North Korea fiercely disputes. It has been a recurring flashpoint between the rivals that has seen three other bloody naval skirmishes since 1999.
Last week Kim Jong-un visited two islands north of the maritime boundary and ordered troops to open fire immediately if a single enemy shell was fired on North Korean waters.
Kim was also quoted as saying his military was fully ready to fight an “all-out war” and that he would order a “just, great advance for national unification” if the enemy made even a slight provocation, according to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.
Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment