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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 255 (March 28, 2013)
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 1)

N. Korean Military Enters Highest Combat Ready Posture, Fueling Tension

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea said on March 26 that its military has placed all of its missile and artillery units that are capable of striking South Korea, the United States and other "hostile targets" on the highest alert.

   "From this moment, the Supreme Command (of the Korean People's Army/ KPA) puts all of its field artillery including strategic rocket units and long-range artillery units into the No. 1 combat ready posture," the KPA 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 all of the enemy targets in South Korea and its neighboring regions," the statement said. The command said their action is in response to the U.S. military's "fuss for a nuclear war."

   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.

   The threat from the KPA's Supreme Command came only hours after South Korean President Park Geun-hye warned that the North Korean leadership could ensure its survival only when it abandoned its nuclear weapons, long-range missiles, provocations and threats.

   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.

   Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have risen following North Korea's launching of a three-stage rocket in December and its third nuclear test in February. In response, Washington and Seoul spearheaded a U.N. Security Council resolution imposing more sanctions on the socialist state.

   North Korea has since issued a torrent of threats to turn Washington and Seoul into "a sea of fire." Its leader Kim Jong-un has made a round of visits to military units recently, inspecting live-fire artillery and amphibious landing exercises.

   "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 North's statement 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 warship sinking case with the DPRK and shift the blame for the Yeonpyeong 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 said.

   A Seoul 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 behind 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 in March 2010.

   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.

   But observers said North Korea may be ratcheting up tensions to push for a diplomatic solution to the impasse on the Korean Peninsula triggered by its recent nuclear test.

   They speculate that Pyongyang is using a "two-pronged strategy" of heightening fear of confrontation, while simultaneously pushing for a diplomatic resolution to diffuse the tensions.

   Such views come as the communist country's military supreme command, the foreign ministry and the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland all issued harsh statements on March 26 that claimed conditions on the peninsula have deteriorated to the point that a nuclear war could take place.

   The KPA Supreme Command claimed that it will engage in a sacred war to "destroy the U.S. imperialists and the South Korean puppets with one stroke." Pyongyang often refers to the United States as an imperialistic power and South Korea as Washington's client state.

   The North's reunification committee also warned that the North will obliterate the source of confrontation in the South including the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae, while the foreign ministry formally informed the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) that the U.S. is seeking nuclear war with the DPRK.

   "A nuclear war in the Korean Peninsula is no longer a representative meaning but a realistic one," the ministry told the UNSC.

   Before the latest threats were made, the North, in response to joint military exercises carried out by South Korea and the United States, said it will nullify the Armistice Agreement that ended the Korean War (1950-53) and no long respect non-aggression pacts reached with Seoul in the past.

   Notwithstanding its saber-rattling tactics, Pyongyang at the same time has been calling for a diplomatic solution to the standoff.

   The KPA Supreme Command asked all progressive forces the world over to stage a campaign to oppose U.S. unilateral actions.

   It called for "people of conscience" not to blindly follow the UNSC that has lost its impartiality and sense of fairness, and join forces with the North to stand up for independence and justice.

   Local North Korea watchers claimed such remarks show that Pyongyang is seeking a diplomatic outlet to the current situation, and may be a strategy to ask Beijing to change its posture toward North Korea. China has been highly critical of North Korea's actions as of late and did not block the UNSC from penalizing the North, even though in the past it had stood up for its neighbor.

   Chang Yong-seok, a senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University, said recent moves by the North to emphasize the "dangerous situation" on the Korean Peninsula may be a plan to overcome the present unfavorable circumstances.

   He claimed that by pointing out mounting risks Pyongyang may be seeking dialogue with the outside world.

   "The North may be worried about circumstances getting out of control without any diplomatic mediation process," the researcher said.

   Chang added that holding onto a combat readiness posture for a long period of time can cause the general population to become fatigued, which is not good for governing the country.

   Others echoed this view of Pyongyang seeking an "exit" to deal with the heightened tensions. Kim Yeon-chul, a professor of unification studies at Inje University, said the North so far has been raising the ante by threatening both Seoul and Washington.

   He said that this tactic makes it difficult for the country to find an alternative strategy, but this may be changing as it seeks to win sympathy for its cause and gain international support that has been waning in recent months.

   North Korean experts, moreover, said that by appealing to progressives and "people of conscience" Pyongyang may be attempting to prevent the current confrontational situation from spiraling out of control.

   "They may want to 'safely' control the situation and not let tensions escalate any further," a government source said.

   The source, who declined to be identified, said that while the North has been claiming it can and will go to war, its leadership has also been making clear that it wants economic growth, which can be a sign that the communist country does not really want conditions on the Korean Peninsula to deteriorate any further.

   Reflecting this view, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been making frequent visits to military bases and ordering drills, yet he was on hand for the light industrial workers meeting on March 18 in Pyongyang, where he emphasized the need to improve the everyday lives of the people.

  (END)
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