|North Korean students participate in a rally to show support for their leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang on Thursday. (AP-Yonhap News)|
North Korea said Saturday that inter-Korean relations have entered into a state of war and all cross-border issues will be dealt with in a wartime manner, the latest in a near-daily series of strident threats against the South
in recent weeks.
The warning came a day after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un put strategic rocket units on standby, threatening to strike targets in South Korea, the U.S. mainland, and its military bases in Hawaii and Guam, in anger after nuclear-capable U.S. B-2 stealth bombers participated in joint military drills in the South.
"From this moment, the North-South relations will be put at the state of war, and all the issues arousing between the North and the South will be dealt with according to the wartime regulations," the North said in a special statement issued by the country's government, parties and other organizations, according to the Korean Central News Agency.
"The state of neither peace nor war has ended on the Korean Peninsula," it said.
The communist nation also said it will "immediately punish any slightest provocation hurting its dignity and sovereignty with resolute and merciless physical actions without any prior notice."
Pyongyang has sharply ratcheted up belligerent rhetoric in recent weeks with repeated war threats against the South in anger over joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States as well as a new U.N. Security Council resolution adopted for its third nuclear test.
In Saturday's statement, the North denounced the mobilization of the U.S stealth bombers for the exercise as "an unpardonable and heinous provocation, and an open challenge."
"If the U.S. and the South Korean puppet group perpetrate a military provocation for igniting a war against the DPRK (North Korea) in any area, including the five islands in the West Sea of Korea or in the area along the Military Demarcation Line, it will not be limited to a local war but develop into an all-out war, a nuclear war," the North said in the statement.
The South's defense ministry denounced the recent series of menacing rhetoric by the North as unacceptable threats that hurt peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, and pledged to thoroughly punish Pyongyang in the event of provocations.
It also said this week's exercises involving stealth bombers were defensive in nature.
"Our military is maintaining full preparedness to leave no blind point in safeguarding the lives and safety of the people," the ministry said in a statement.
Speaking at a workshop for senior officials from the government, the presidential office and the ruling Saenuri Party, Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin said he does not rule out the possibility of an "armed provocation" from the North.
"If provoked, we will mobilize not only all of our military strength but also that of the U.S. mainland and suppress (the North) in a single stroke," the minister was quoted as saying by multiple participants at the workshop.
Despite harsh threats, the North is showing no unusual military moves, a military source said.
In Washington, the White House said it takes the North's warning seriously.
"We've seen reports of a new and unconstructive statement from North Korea," said Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the National Security Council, according to AFP. "We take these threats seriously and remain in close contact with our South Korean allies."
Hayden said the North's threat follows a pattern of bellicose rhetoric and threats.
"We continue to take additional measures against the North Korean threat, including our plan to increase the U.S. ground-based interceptors and early warning and tracking radar," she said.
Later in the day, the North stepped up its threats even further, saying it will close the inter-Korean industrial complex in its border city of Kaesong if the South continues to slander its character.
In a statement carried by the North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), an unnamed spokesman for the park said the South is "seriously insulting our dignity" by claiming that the communist nation is allowing the complex to operate despite the escalation in tensions because it is a source of foreign currency.
The complex, where 123 South Korean companies run factories with cheap North Korean labor, is a major source of hard currency for the impoverished communist nation.
"In fact, it is not us but the South's small and medium-sized enterprises that are benefiting from the Kaesong industrial complex," KCNA quoted the spokesman as saying.
Despite Pyongyang's latest threat, border crossings by South Koreans to and from the complex proceeded normally, Seoul's unification ministry said.
On Saturday, a total of 157 South Koreans traveled to the factory park, while 427 people returned, it said. More than 310 South Koreans currently remain at the park.
The North notified the South of its approval of the border crossings via the park's management committee earlier in the day, the ministry said.
"There is no change in our position that we will continue (to operate) the Kaesong industrial complex in a stable manner," the South Korean government said in a statement, adding that the safety of its people is top priority.
The statement also said that Seoul views both of Saturday's threats as follow-up measures to the North Korean military's warning earlier this week that it is entering the "No. 1 combat ready posture."
"We view (the latest warning) as part of a series of provocative threats," the statement said.(Yonhap News)
<관련 한글 기사>
북한, "남북관계, 전시상황 돌입" 선언
북한이 30일 "이 시각부터 남북관계는 전시상황 에 들어간다"고 선언했다.
북한은 이날 발표한 '정부•정당•단체 특별성명'을 통해 "북남 사이에서 제기되는 모든 문제는 전시에 준하여 처리될 것"이라며 "조선반도에서 평화도 전쟁도 아 닌 상태는 끝장났다"고 주장했다고 조선중앙통신이 전했다.
성명은 "미국과 괴뢰패당이 군사적 도발을 일으킨다면 그것은 국지전으로 한정되지 않고 전면전쟁, 핵전쟁으로 번져지게 될 것"이라며 "우리의 첫 타격에 미국 본 토와 하와이, 괌도가 녹아나고 남조선 주둔 미군기지는 물론 청와대와 괴뢰군기지도 동시에 초토화될 것"이라고 위협했다.
이어 성명은 김정은 국방위원회 제1위원장이 긴급 작전회의를 소집하고 전략미사일 타격계획을 최종 검토•승인했다고 지적하며 "원수님(김정은)의 중대결심은 미국과 괴뢰패당에 대한 최후경고이며 정의의 최종결단"이라고 강조했다.
'정부•정당•단체 성명'이란 형식은 통상 북한이 대남정책의 기조를 발표할 때 사용하는 형식이며, 따라서 이날 북한의 특별 성명은 실질적인 선전포고보다는 남북 관계의 완전한 단절을 선언하는데 무게가 실린 것으로 해석된다.
장용석 서울대 통일평화연구원 선임연구원은 "북한에서 선전포고는 군 통수권자 인 최고사령관만이 내릴 수 있는 권한"이라며 "(이날 성명은) 북한이 지금까지 해왔 던 위협을 사회단체가 지지하는 형식으로, 사회 전체의 의지를 모아 대남 입장을 밝 힌 것"이라고 설명했다.
북한은 매년 1월 형식적인 정부•정당•단체 연합회의를 연 뒤 당해 연도의 대남정책 방향을 성명 형식으로 발표해오다 2008년부터 이를 중단했다.
이후 북한은 2011년 1월 이명박 정부 들어 처음 정부•정당•단체 연합성명을 발표, "당국 사이의 회담을 무조건 조속히 개최할 것을 주장한다"고 밝힌 바 있다.
한편 정부는 이날 북한의 특별성명에 대해 "최고사령부 성명을 통해 '1호 전투 근무태세' 돌입을 선언한 이후 부문별로 이를 이행하기 위한 후속 조치 차원의 성격 이라며 "새로운 위협이 아니라 일련의 계속되는 도발 위협의 하나"라고 평가했다. (연합뉴스)