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(4th LD) N. Korea says military to enter top combat ready posture
SEOUL, March 26 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's military will put its missile and artillery units into combat ready posture in order to protect its sovereignty, the country's state media said Tuesday. Officials in Seoul said the level of the war posture may mean the highest alert.

   "From this moment, the Supreme Command puts all of its field artillery including strategic rocket units and long-range artillery units into the No. 1 combat ready posture," the Korean People's Army's Supreme Command said in a statement carried by the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). The artillery units target the U.S. mainland, Hawaii and Guam and other U.S. military bases in the Pacific as well as South Korea, the statement said.

   The statement said the country will "show off our army and people's stern reaction to safeguard our sovereignty and the highest dignity through military actions," referring to its leader Kim Jong-un as the highest dignity.

   The country's "crystal clear judgment" is that it cannot overlook the United States' nuclear threats and military actions any longer.

   It will also display the military's powerful intention to the South through physical actions, the statement noted.

   North Korea's foreign ministry, however, later said the combat ready posture was to prepare for a possible nuclear war with the United States.

   In a separate statement also carried by the KCNA, the North Korean foreign ministry said it was informing the United Nations that conditions for an imminent nuclear war have been created on the Korean peninsula due to what it called provocations from U.S. and South Korean warmongers.

   "Our people and army are entering the final stage of preparations for war against the United States to defend their country's dignity and sovereignty," the foreign ministry statement said.

   The series of provocative statements came as the country ratcheted up military threats to the two allies over their two joint military drills this month and the latest punitive sanctions adopted by the United Nations following the North's Feb. 12 nuclear test.

   "The U.S. nuclear war racket has gone beyond the danger line and entered the phase of an actual war, defying the repeated warnings from the army and people of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)," the statement also said, citing the recent firing drill by a B-52 bomber of the U.S. in the South Korean sky.

   Denouncing the South, it also noted that "The present South Korean puppet authorities tried to link the Cheonan sinking case with the DPRK and shift the blame for the Yeonpyong Island shelling on to the DPRK."

   "They should be mindful that everything will be reduced to ashes and flames the moment the first attack is unleashed," the Supreme Command statement also said.

   A government official said a statement by the Supreme Command is very rare because the organ is an emergency body operative only in war time.


In a separate statement, a spokesman for the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, Pyongyang's mouthpiece on inter-Korean issues, directed the communist state's military threat toward Seoul.

   "All facts prove that the new regime of South Korea opted for escalating confrontation with the DPRK, following in the footsteps of the Lee Myung Bak group of traitors," said the statement, also carried by the KCNA.

   "We do not want apology from the worst traitors...The army and people of the DPRK, as they had declared, will destroy the den of confrontation including Chongwadae, hotbed of all evils," it added. Cheong Wa Dae is the Korean name of Seoul's presidential office.

   In response to the North Korean military's latest move, Seoul's defense ministry said it is closely monitoring the communist country to detect any signs of provocations, though the North has yet to show any abnormal activity.

   South Korea upgraded its military readiness and surveillance status earlier this month during the joint drills with the U.S., and has since maintained the heightened alert status.

   "The No. 1 combat readiness status is a term first used by North's state media, which means the highest level of combat readiness status," a senior ministry official said. "It seems to be aimed at creating a war-like situation to unite the North Korean people, though it could result in real provocations."

   The ministry said intelligence officials are currently looking into the intention of North Korea's order for a combat posture while South Korea commemorates the third anniversary of the sinking of the Cheonan warship, which was torpedoed by North Korea in the Yellow Sea.

   South Korea's presidential office Cheong Wa Dae also said it was analyzing Pyongyang's real intentions, though there have been no unusual moves in the North's military.