N. Korea to scrap pact preventing clash with Seoul

North Korea announced today that it will scrap an accord aimed at

preventing accidental naval clashes with neighbours South Korea in retaliation

for Seoul blaming Pyongyang for a torpedo attack that sank a South Korean

warship.

Tension on the divided peninsula has risen dramatically since a

team of international investigators announced last week that a torpedo fired by

a North Korean submarine tore apart and sank a South Korean warship on March 26,

killing 46 sailors.

North Korea has denied its involvement in the sinking and warned

any retaliation would mean war.

On Thursday, North Korea’s military said it will

“completely nullify” an inter-Korean accord aimed at preventing accidental armed

skirmishes along the disputed western sea border – a scene of three bloody

maritime battles between the two nations.

“Immediate physical strikes will be launched” against any South

Korean ships that intrude into North Korean waters, the country’s military said

in a statement, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

It said it will also start a review to possibly ban South Korean

personnel and vehicles from entering a joint industrial park in the North Korean

border town of Kaesong – the last remaining major inter-Korean reconciliation

project. It gave no timeframe, however.

The announcement came hours after a fleet of South Korean warships

staged a large-scale anti-submarine drill off the west coast despite North

Korea’s warnings that such exercises will drive the peninsula to the brink of

war.

The two countries are still technically at war because their

1950-53 conflict ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. The US stations

28?500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the Korean War.

South Korean and US troops are on their highest alert since North

Korea’s second nuclear test in May last year, reports said.

The mass-circulation

JoongAng Ilbo newspaper, citing an unidentified Seoul official, reported today

that the South Korean-US combined forces command raised their surveillance level

called Watch Condition, up a level from three to two. Level One is the

highest.

South Korea, backed by the US, Japan and other allies, has begun

carrying out punitive measures that range from slashing trade and resuming

propaganda warfare to barring the North’s cargo ships – the strongest it can

implement short of military action.

North Korea quickly responded by threatening to cut ties with South

Korea, wage “all-out counterattacks” against psychological warfare operations

and bar South Korean ships and airliners from its waters and airspace.

“We will never tolerate the slightest provocations of our enemies,

and will answer to that with all-out war,” North Korean major-general Pak Chan

Su, a Korean War veteran, told broadcaster APTN in Pyongyang. “This is the firm

standpoint of our People’s Army.”

South Korea pressed ahead today with anti-submarine drills to boost

readiness against any North Korean provocations.

During a one-day exercise off the west coast, 10 warships including

a 3 500-ton destroyer, fired artillery and other naval guns and dropped

anti-submarine bombs off Taean, about 150km south of Seoul, the navy said.

It was the first anti-submarine drill since the Cheonan disaster,

which occurred about 160km to the north, according to the navy.

South Korea is also planning two major joint military drills with

the US off the west coast next month in a display of force intended to deter

future aggression by North Korea.

North Korean state media, citing the drills, criticised South Korea

yesterday for “driving the situation to the brink of explosion”.



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