Published : 2013-12-20 20:33
Updated : 2013-12-20 20:33
North Korea threatened to “unsparingly” retaliate against South Korean conservatives’ recent anti-Pyongyang rallies in a fax message to Seoul on Thursday, further escalating tension on the peninsula.
Seoul’s Defense Ministry said the North’s powerful National Defense Commission had sent the message to the presidential office of national security through the western coastal military communication line.
“The North sent a fax saying that it would mercilessly take unsparing retaliatory action should there be large-scale provocations at the center of Seoul against its supreme dignity,” ministry spokesperson Kim Min-seok told reporters.
The North referred to the anti-North Korea gatherings that conservatives here staged on Tuesday when Pyongyang nationally commemorated the second anniversary of the death of its former leader Kim Jong-il.
Five right-wing groups staged a large-scale demonstration in central Seoul to “celebrate” the death of the former dictator, who drove the communist regime deeper into international isolation with the pursuit of nuclear arms.
Seoul’s Defense Ministry also sent a reply to the North warning of “stern retaliation” against possible North Korean provocations.
“Our military remains fully ready to strike back against any provocations by the North,” Kim said. “There are not any unusual North Korean military movements at the moment.”
Seoul’s Unification Ministry downplayed the bellicosity of the fax, saying that the North has repeatedly used hostile terms in its official statements.
“If you look at the telephone message, there isn’t any big difference from their previous statements or announcements,” ministry spokesperson Kim Eui-do said in a regular briefing.
“The North has repeatedly used such expressions as merciless retaliation many times before.”
The NDC message came as officials raised the possibility of North Korean provocations, particularly from late January to early March when the two Koreas stage regular military drills including an annual South Korea-U.S. exercise.
Experts also said that the North could set off provocations in order to strengthen internal unity, which could be affected by the execution of Jang Song-thaek, the once-powerful uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Top U.S. officials also expressed concerns over growing uncertainties in the North and the possibility of future provocations.
During a press conference, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel stressed that the North’s execution of Jang demonstrates the unpredictability of the regime.
“It is very concerning to everyone and the reality of that uncertainty heightens the tensions,” he said at the Pentagon.
“It further deepens the suspicions of motives. That nation is as closed as any nation in the world. There is no transparency.”
U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey also expressed his worries about possible provocations by the North.
“These kind of internal actions by dictators are often a precursor to provocations to distract attention from what they are doing inside of that country,” he said.