(4th LD) N. Korea threatens military response after S. Korea joins PSI |
By Kim Hyun and Tony Chang
SEOUL, May 27 (Yonhap) -- North Korea said Wednesday it will no longer abide by the Korean War armistice and may retaliate militarily in response to the South's participation in a U.S.-led drill, further raising tension following its nuclear test.
The statement, issued by the North's permanent military mission to the joint security area in the demilitarized zone separating the Koreas, also said the country can no longer guarantee the safety of South Korean and U.S. military ships and civilian vessels sailing along the western sea border.
"Our revolutionary armed forces, as they have already declared, will regard the Lee Myung-bak group of traitors' 'full participation' in the PSI as a declaration of war against the DPRK (North Korea)," the Panmunjom Mission of the North's Korean People's Army said.
South Korea joined the Proliferation Security Initiative on Tuesday, reacting to the nuclear test a day earlier. The North's second underground test, believed to be an improvement in nuclear yield and technology from its first test in 2006, prompted international condemnation and a U.N. Security Council move to sharpen sanctions on the North.
Wednesday's statement was the latest in a series of North Korean reactions to the outside world. North Korea quit nuclear disarmament talks last month to protest the Security Council's rebuke of its rocket launch. An informed source in Seoul said the country appears to have restarted in mid-April its nuclear reprocessing facility at Yongbyon, where it extracts plutonium used to make nuclear bombs.
After its nuclear test Monday, Pyongyang test-fired several short-range missiles into the East Sea. Watchers say inter-continental missile tests may follow, as the North threatened last month.
The latest warning came during the crab-catching season in the Yellow Sea. Sparking concerns of military clashes, the North said it will no longer be bound by the 1953 armistice agreement and a western sea border drawn at that time.
The statement said it is "illogical" to keep the armistice while South Korea and the U.S. have reneged on it by joining the anti-proliferation drill. The exercise, aimed at seizing ships and planes suspected of carrying weapons of mass destruction, violates the armistice agreement that bans any form of naval blockade on the peninsula, the North claimed.
"Accordingly, they (the North Korean army) will regard any hostile actions against the DPRK, including checkup and inspection of its peaceful vessels, as an unpardonable encroachment on the DPRK's sovereignty and counter them with prompt and strong military strikes," the statement said.
Seoul officials refuted the North's claim. The drill is not blocking North Korean entry into South Korean waters, they say, and commercial ships will continue to pass across the border as allowed in a 2005 inter-Korean maritime accord, they said.
"Despite the North Korean threat, the maritime agreement remains valid," said a senior official at South Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade on condition of anonymity. "The PSI applies equally to vessels and aircraft of North Korea, as well as all other countries."
Urging the North to join the U.S.-led campaign to stem the spread of weapons of mass destruction, he said North Korea should dismantle its nuclear and missile programs.
"Instead of using South Korea's PSI participation as an excuse for a threat, Pyongyang should stop its development of nuclear weapons and missiles and return to the bargaining table to resolve the problem," he said.
Pyongyang had repeatedly warned of a military response should Seoul join the PSI. On March 30, it said that South Korea "should never forget that Seoul is just 50 km away from the Military Demarcation Line."
The North's statement said the two Koreas are now "bound to immediately return to a state of war."
Two bloody skirmishes occurred along the western sea border in 1999 and 2002. The Koreas currently divide their territories with the Northern Limit Line, which was unilaterally drawn by the U.S.-led U.N. Command at the end of the war. The North has rejected it as illegitimate and demanded it be redrawn further south.
"For the present, we will not guarantee the legal status of the five islands under the south side's control" or the "safe sailing of warships of the U.S. imperialist aggression forces and the South Korean puppet navy and civilian ships operating in the waters around there," the statement said.
Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, said military clashes could occur in the western sea border at any time. North Korea wants to draw U.S. attention to the peninsula, he said, particularly noting that the warning was issued by the North Korean mission to the joint security area within the purview of the U.N. Command.
Yang also said North Korea may follow up by test-firing inter-continental ballistic missiles.
Koh Yu-hwan, a professor at Dongguk University, said North Korea is aware of South Korea's superior military force and will not easily attempt a provocation that will likely lead to its own defeat. Instead, South Korea will suffer emotional and economic losses, as fishermen on those islands will withdraw and investors' sentiment in the country may slide, he said.