Korea on the brink

2010-05-26 09:21

North Korea threatened today to block cross-border traffic and blow

up any South Korean loudspeakers blasting propaganda northward after a six-year

hiatus, as tensions soared over the sinking of a South Korean warship.

The dramatic deterioration in relations came as US Secretary of

State Hillary Clinton visited Seoul today on the final leg of a three-nation

Asian tour that was dominated by the March 26 sinking blamed on a North Korean

torpedo attack.

Clinton said: “This was an unacceptable provocation by North Korea

and the international community has a responsibility and a duty to


A team of international investigators concluded last week that a

homing torpedo from a North Korean submarine tore apart the 1 200-ton Cheonan

off the west coast, killing 46 South Korean sailors.

South Korea began taking punitive steps yesterday against North

Korea – ranging from slashing trade, resuming propaganda warfare and barring the

North’s cargo ships. Those were seen as among the strongest it could implement

short of military action.

The US has said evidence of the North’s culpability is overwhelming

and has backed the South’s measures but key North Korea ally China has said it

is still weighing evidence about the incident and has done little but urge calm

on all sides.

Clinton, who visited China before going to Seoul, said: “I believe

that the Chinese understand the seriousness of this issue and are willing to

listen to the concerns expressed by both South Korea and the United States. We

expect to be working with China as we move forward in fashioning a


The North, which flatly denies its role in the sinking, has warned

that retaliatory measures would lead to war. On Tuesday, Pyongyang announced it

was cutting relations with South Korea, starting “all-out counterattacks”

against the South’s psychological warfare operations and barring South Korean

ships and airliners from passing through its territory.

Today, the North cut off some cross-border communication links and

expelled eight South Korean government officials from a joint factory park at

the North Korean border city of Kaesong, South Korea’s Unification Ministry


The North’s military also issued a statement warning it would

“totally ban” the passage of South Korean personnel and vehicles to an

inter-Korean zone in the western coastal area, apparently referring to Kaesong,

if South Korea does not stop its psychological warfare.

The statement said it would shoot at and “blow up” any loudspeakers

South Korea installs at the border. Seoul dismantled such devices six years ago

amid warming ties, but said yesterday it had resumed radio broadcasts into the

North and that it would reinstall loudspeakers at the border within weeks.

The statement, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency,

said: “The South Korean puppet warlike forces would be well advised to act with

discretion, bearing deep in mind that such measures of the Korean People’s Army

will not end in an empty talk.”

Despite the rhetoric, North Korea still allowed South Korean

workers to cross the border to enter the Kaesong complex today, according to

Seoul’s Unification Ministry.

The North’s statement yesterday did not refer to about 800 South

Korean company managers and workers at Kaesong. Seoul also excluded Kaesong –

the last remaining major joint reconciliation project that provides badly needed

hard currency for Kim Jong Il’s regime – from its retaliatory measures.

South Korea accused North Korea of taking “menacing” measures and

will “deal with these North Korean threats unwaveringly and sternly,”

Unification Ministry spokesperson Chun Hae-sung said today.

South Korea’s military said today there were no signs of unusual

activity by North Korean troops.

A Seoul-based monitoring agency reported yesterday that North

Korean leader Kim Jong Il ordered the country’s 1.2 million-member military to

get ready for combat.

South Korean officials could not immediately confirm the report.

North Korea often issues fiery rhetoric and regularly vows to wage war against

South Korea and the US.

South Korea wants to bring North Korea before the UN Security

Council over the sinking, and has US support.

The North and South have technically remained at war since the

1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty.

The US and South Korea are planning two major military exercises

off the Korean peninsula in a display of force intended to deter future

aggression by North Korea, the White House said. The US has 28 500 troops in

South Korea.

Relations are at their lowest point since a decade ago, when South

Korea began reaching out to the North with unconditional aid as part of

reconciliation efforts. Lee has taken a harder line since taking office in 2008,

and the South has suspended aid.

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