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Seoul on alert over N.K.’s threat of attacks

South Korea is on high alert over Pyongyang’s latest threat of “special military actions” against the presidential office and media organizations which experts believe may not be empty words.

On Monday, North Korea’s state media Korean Central News Agency reported that a “revolutionary military special action” will take place soon, and that the actions will annihilate the targets in “three to four minutes” or less.

The targets mentioned by the KCNA include President Lee Myung-bak and a number of local news outlets including the broadcasters KBS, YTN and the daily Donga Ilbo.

Seoul’s military has increased surveillance activities, while the police have deployed units to the mentioned locations against possible terrorist attacks.

The U.S. also appears to be taking the threat seriously.

“It is known for engaging in provocations in a series, so I wouldn’t rule out provocative behavior by the North Korean regime,” U.S. Press Secretary Jay Carney said at a recent press briefing. Carney, however, did not comment specifically on Pyongyang’s threat, saying only that North Korea’s behavior has resulted in “international condemnation” and that the regime’s “lack of credibility” has prevented the food aid project from going forward.

The threat follows on the heels of President Lee’s speech at the Institute for Unification Education last Friday, and the revealing of a new cruise missile developed by the South last Thursday. In Friday’s speech, Lee said that Pyongyang needs to carry out land reform to improve the conditions for the North Korean people, while Seoul’s Ministry of National Defense announced that the new missile is capable of striking any location in the North, leading to some media outlets here reporting that it was capable of striking the office of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

As for what Pyongyang is trying to gain through such provocative actions, experts say that the benefits will mainly be internal.

“North Korea is not a normal system, it always needs discord and fluctuations (in inter-Korean relations) to maintain the regime,” World North Korea Research Center director Ahn Chan-il said. He added that Pyongyang’s leaders need the heightened tension to maintain their grip on power as North Korea’s power structure and public opinion are unstable at present.

Ahn also said that North Korea may have been motivated in part by changes in Pyongyang-Beijing relations. North Korea-China relations took a turn for the worse when the normally supportive China joined other members of the U.N. Security Council in warning Pyongyang from further provocations after the failed rocker launch on April 13.

“This provocation also contains a message for China. Pyongyang could be saying if you try to shake us around we will not take it lying down.

While experts say that the threat contains elements of the North’s ranking military officers competitively displaying their loyalty to Kim, the possibility of Pyongyang following through has not been ruled out.

“(North Korea) always conducts attacks under unpredictable circumstances, so an attack is entirely possible. However, as our military is on heightened alert, Pyongyang is likely to choose a method whose origin is difficult to identify,” said Yang Uk, senior research fellow at Korea Defense and Security Forum. He added that an attack carried out by special operatives is one of the few options available to Pyongyang if it is to avoid actions that will be considered as acts of war.

“For North Korea this is a matter of pride as our media outlets are talking about the failed rocket and calling Pyongyang a dictatorship day in, day out, so steps need to be taken even if it means issuing extreme threats.”

By Choi He-suk  (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)
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