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(LEAD) Park calls for 'stern punishment' for N. Korean provocations
SEOUL, Feb. 22 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's incoming President Park Geun-hye said Friday it is important to hand out strong punishment to North Korea in case of reckless provocations as she met with top military commanders just three days before taking office.

   The visit to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command was aimed at underscoring her commitment to national security amid concern that the communist North could attempt provocations at a time of power transition in South Korea.

   "I think it is important that there should be stern punishment for reckless provocations so as to break the vicious cycle that has been repeating," Park said during the visit, according to her spokesman Park Sun-kyoo. "I hope you will remember for sure that strong security is the basis of everything the new government pursues."

   She also held video conference calls with top Army, Navy and Air Force commanders working in the field, expressing gratitude for their service and asking them to ensure strong defense so that the people can lead normal lives without any security concerns.

   Army Gen. Park Sung-kyu told Park that the military is carrying out its duties without wavering even the slightest and is vigilant with readiness to "thoroughly strike back" at the North, including "source points" of attacks, in the event of provocations.

   Park also asked the military to do its best to make sure to safeguard South Korea's easternmost islets of Dokdo, the spokesman said, amid Japan's renewed sovereignty claims over the rocky outcroppings in the East Sea.

   At the start of the meeting with commanders, which was open to the press, Park said that South Korea won't tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea and will work together with the United States to build the strongest-possible deterrence against the communist nation.

   She also vowed to further upgrade the alliance with Washington.

   "North Korea continues nuclear development and provocations against the South," Park said. "I and South Korea's government will never tolerate North Korea possessing nuclear weapons and will establish a perfect deterrence against the North based on the strong Korea-U.S. alliance."

   Park called the United States a "blood ally that shed blood with us to defend our liberal democracy at the time of the Korean War" from 1950-53 and her government will do its best to move the alliance further forward in a future-oriented manner."

   Gen. James Thurman, the top American military commander in South Korea, told Park that the Korea-U.S. alliance is the strongest bilateral alliance he has ever seen during his 38 years of military service, and the two militaries are maintaining the strongest-possible defense posture.