SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea’s young leader urged front-line troops to be on “maximum alert” for a potential war as a state-run newspaper said Pyongyang had carried out a threat to cancel the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War.
Kim Jong Un told artillery troops stationed near disputed waters that have seen several bloody clashes in past years that “war can break out right now,” according to a report by North Korean state media.
Kim’s visit and the armistice claim are part of a torrent of angry North Korean rhetoric that has followed last week’s U.N. sanctions over Pyongyang’s Feb. 12 nuclear test. Pyongyang has also vowed to strike the United States with nuclear weapons.
It is unclear, however, what will come next and whether North Korea will match its words with action. A U.N. spokesman said that Pyongyang cannot unilaterally dissolve the armistice. Pyongyang is also years away from acquiring the smaller, lighter nuclear warheads needed to pose a credible nuclear missile threat to the United States.
Indeed, several signs pointed to business as usual between the Koreas — despite the bluster.
North Korea apparently cut one telephone and fax hotline at a village straddling the Demilitarized Zone between the countries, but otherwise there have been no substantial operational changes, Seoul’s Unification Ministry and Joint Chiefs of Staff said Tuesday.
There are at least two other working communication channels between the Koreas. As they did Monday, the two Koreas used a separate military hotline Tuesday to allow hundreds of South Koreans to cross the border to a jointly run factory park in the North Korean border town of Kaesong, according to the South’s Unification Ministry.
Much of the bellicosity is seen as an effort to shore up loyalty among citizens and the military for Kim Jong Un.
Still, North Korea’s anger, and Seoul’s stern rebuttals, is boosting animosity and causing worries on an already tense Korean Peninsula. The rivals this week are also holding dueling military drills.
U.S. National Security adviser Tom Donilon told the Asia Society in New York that Pyongyang’s claims may be “hyperbolic,” but the United States will protect its allies.
“There should be no doubt: We will draw upon the full range of our capabilities to protect against, and to respond to, the threat posed to us and to our allies by North Korea,” Donilon said.
Aside from the nuclear threats, Pyongyang has so far only made a somewhat mysterious promise to strike its enemies at a time and place of its own choosing. This alarms many, however, as two sudden attacks blamed on North Korea killed 50 South Koreans in 2010.
Seoul has responded to North Korean threats with tough talk of its own and has placed its troops on high alert.
The North Korean government made no formal announcement on its repeated threats to scrap the 60-year-old armistice, but the country’s main newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, reported that the armistice was nullified Monday as Pyongyang had said it would.
The North has threatened to nullify the armistice several times before, and in 1996, after one such vow, it sent hundreds of armed troops into a border village. The troops later withdrew.
Despite the Rodong Sinmun report, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said the armistice is still valid and still in force because the armistice agreement had been adopted by the U.N. General Assembly and can’t be dissolved unilaterally.
Nesirky added that officials at U.N. headquarters in New York were unaware of any operational changes on the ground on the Korean Peninsula.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the U.S. was “certainly concerned by North Korea’s bellicose rhetoric. And the threats that they have been making follow a pattern designed to raise tension and intimidate others.”
The angry words from both Koreas haven’t stopped them from communicating about the only remaining operational symbol of joint cooperation, the Kaesong industrial complex. It is operated in North Korea with South Korean money and know-how and a mostly North Korean workforce — and provides a badly needed flow of hard currency to a country where many face food shortages.
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