N. Korea Threatens Military Action After Reports of Seoul Contingency Plan
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- After a series of conciliatory gestures, North Korea again turned belligerent toward South Korea last week -- threatening to attack its presidential office and suspend cross-border dialogue, in an unusually strong backlash against Seoul's reported action plan to deal with regime collapse in Pyongyang.
The warning was issued on Jan. 15 by the North's National Defense Commission (NDC), which is chaired by leader Kim Jong-il and holds the highest authority in the socialist country. It is the first time since its establishment in 1998 that the defense commission has issued a public statement on inter-Korean issues.
In the warning, the North threatened to launch a "sacred war" of retaliation to destroy the South Korean government and the presidential office. Describing Seoul's reported contingency plan as a plot to bring down the North Korean regime, the statement also called for the dismantlement of the South's Unification Ministry and National Intelligence Service.
"(Should) the reckless provocative plan of the South Korean authorities to bring down the supreme headquarters of our revolution and the dignified socialist system be completed and (be) put into practice," the spokesman said, "there will start a sacred nationwide retaliatory battle to blow up the stronghold of the South Korean authorities including 'Cheongwadae' (the presidential office) that have led the drafting of the plan and backed it."
Seoul called North Korea's reaction "deeply regrettable" and denied speculation over the contingency plan. "We find it deeply regrettable that North Korea took a threatening stance toward us based on some unconfirmed media reports," Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said in a statement.
The threat followed reports by media outlets in Seoul earlier last week that the South Korean government recently renewed plans on how to handle a regime collapse in North Korea. According to those unconfirmed reports, the new action plan, code-named "Recovery," was completed late last year to reflect changed inter-Korean relations. It suggests possible scenarios to deal with leader Kim's sudden death, a military coup, a revolt among the population or other similar emergencies.
Separately, reports emerged that South Korea has another joint action plan with the United States called Operational Plan (OPLAN) 5029, which authorizes the entry of South Korean and U.S. troops into the North in case of sudden upheaval in its government.
The NDC said such an emergency is "unimaginable." Should Seoul fail to apologize, it warned, North Korea will boycott inter-Korean dialogue and exclude Seoul in broader peace talks on the Korean Peninsula -- possibly referring to the six-party talks on its nuclear program. The stalled regional forum involves the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.
"The South Korean authorities should bear in mind that they will be thoroughly excluded from all the forthcoming dialogues and negotiations to improve the inter-Korean relations and ensure peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula unless they make sincere apology for the crimes committed against the DPRK (North Korea)," the NDC spokesman said.
The latest warning from Pyongyang is "very serious," said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. The statement effectively suspends all peace offers North Korea has recently made in line with its reconciliatory New Year joint editorial, including its proposal to hold inter-Korean talks next week and its acceptance of South Korean corn aid, Yang said.
"The statement by the National Defense Commission carries the very intent of Chairman Kim Jong-il. It stands above all others," Yang said.
Pyongyang's saber-rattling message, carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), came alongside its announcement that it would accept humanitarian aid from Seoul. Earlier in the day, North Korea sent a faxed message to South Korea saying it will accept the 10,000 tons of corn aid offered in October. Pyongyang had delayed on giving an answer, apparently disgruntled by the small scale of the aid and Seoul's demand for transparency in its distribution.
Prior to its most recent outburst, Pyongyang had softened its posture towards South Korea. In its annual joint New Year's editorial, the North expressed hope to establish lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula and make it nuclear-free through dialogue and negotiations. The North said its will to improve relations with the South remained "unshakable" as long as the sides respect accords reached in their two summit meetings in 2000 and 2007.
Days later, it called for a peace treaty to replace the armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953. It also proposed talks on resuming suspended tour programs to its Mt. Kumgang resort and the ancient city of Kaesong, where the joint industrial complex is located.
The North also agreed to hold a follow-up meeting Jan. 19-20 in Kaesong to discuss joint South-North survey trips made to industrial sites in China and Vietnam in December.
Two days after the commission's harsh statement, North Korean media reported Jan. 17 that leader Kim inspected a joint military training exercise. "The supreme commander acquainted himself with the units' performance of duty and mounted an observations platform to watch servicemen in training," the KCNA said, without specifying the inspection date. "Training was to defend our socialist state from invaders."
It is the first time the reclusive state has reported an inspection by Kim of a joint ground, naval and air force training drill since he became supreme commander of the country's military in December 1992.
Along with the report, the North's state TV broadcast four photographs, one of which showed a line of rocket launchers, erected about 30 degrees from the ground. The 240 millimeter multiple rocket launcher shown in the picture, produced in the 1980s, has a range of 60 kilometers and poses a direct threat to the South Korean capital and its adjacent regions, according to South Korean officials.
A South Korean intelligence source said Jan. 18 the North's military has mobilized 10 jet fighters as part of the joint drill. "North Korea was observed to have conducted the joint drill in a western coastal area near Pyongyang," the source said. "About 10 jet fighters, warships and 240mm multiple-launch missile systems were mobilized in the training."