North Korea has threatened to respond with a ‘powerful’ military strike against its southern neighbour if Seoul takes part in a US-led initiative to intercept shipments suspected of being involved in the building of weapons of mass destruction.
Related article: North Korea Threatens Armed Strike, End to Armistice:
May 27 (Bloomberg) — North Korea threatened a military response to South Korean participation in a U.S.-led program to seize weapons of mass destruction, and said it will no longer abide by the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War.
“The Korean People’s Army will not be bound to the Armistice Agreement any longer,” the official Korean Central News Agency said in a statement today. Any attempt to inspect North Korean vessels will be countered with “prompt and strong military strikes.” South Korea’s military said it will “deal sternly with any provocation” from the North.
South Korean President Lee Myung Bak ordered his government to take “calm” measures on the threats, his office said in a statement today. Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, Takeo Kawamura, echoed those remarks and called on North Korea to “refrain from taking actions that would elevate tensions in Asia.”
The threats are the strongest since North Korea tested a nuclear weapon on May 25, drawing international condemnation and the prospect of increased sanctions against the communist nation. South Korea dispatched a warship to its maritime border and is prepared to deploy aircraft, Yonhap News reported, citing military officials it didn’t identify.
“This rapid-fire provocation indicates a more aggressive shift in the Kim Jong Il regime,” said Ryoo Kihl Jae, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “Kim is obviously using a strategy of maximum force.”
North Korea routinely issues threats directed at the U.S., South Korea and Japan, warning of military retaliation if they continue to take actions that the country’s leadership characterizes as threats to its security.
“We have a policy not to comment on each one of North Korea’s provocative remarks,” Kazuo Kodama, a spokesman for Japan’s Foreign Ministry, said by telephone.
The impact of the North Korean threat on markets was mostly localized, with South Korea’s benchmark Kospi stock index falling for a fifth day, the longest losing streak since February. The index declined 0.7 percent to 1,362.02. The won weakened 0.5 percent to 1,269.35 per dollar as of the 3 p.m. close of trade in Seoul.
The yield on government debt due in March 2014 rose six basis points to 4.58 percent, while the three-year yield added five basis points to 3.79 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News.
Overall, Asian stocks rose, driving the MSCI Asia Pacific Index to the highest level in almost eight months, after U.S. consumer confidence jumped the most in six years and commodity prices climbed. European stocks also rose, pushing the Dow Jones Stoxx 600 Index higher for a third day. In the U.S., both the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index and the Dow Jones Industrial Average were down 0.1 percent at 9:33 a.m. in New York. U.S. Treasuries were little changed.
North Korea can’t guarantee the safety of ships passing through its western waters, KCNA said. The statement specified five islands controlled by the South that were the site of naval skirmishes in 1999 and 2002.
“What they are saying is that they will take military action if there is any action taken on behalf of the program such as boarding their ships, stopping and searching and so on,” said Han Sung Joo, a former South Korean foreign minister.
South Korea’s military “will deal sternly with any provocation by North Korea, based on a strong South Korea-U.S. defense coalition,” Rear Admiral Lee Ki Sik of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in an e-mailed statement. North Korea was making “obstinate claims” about nullifying the armistice, he said.
The U.S. has about 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea, according to the United States Forces Korea Web site.
South Korea yesterday agreed to join the Proliferation Security Initiative, or PSI, set up to locate and seize shipments of equipment and materials used to make weapons of mass destruction.
President Lee had resisted joining the PSI until the nuclear test, even after North Korea fired a ballistic missile on April 5. His predecessor, Roh Moo Hyun, had said that joining the initiative would be too provocative.
North Korea has also fired five short-range missiles in two days in a further display of military defiance. The United Nations Security Council agreed in an emergency session on May 25 to condemn the nuclear test and missile launches.
‘Cessation’ of Hostilities
Under the July 27, 1953, armistice that ended the Korean War, both sides agreed to “a complete cessation of all hostilities” and pledged to accept the demarcation line that has become the world’s most-heavily mined demilitarized zone.
North Korea may be preparing to reprocess spent fuel rods at its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported earlier today, citing an unidentified South Korean official. Steam has been rising from the facilities, the newspaper said.
Kim is 68, according to research groups including the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, while the regime says he is a year younger. He probably suffered a stroke last August, according to U.S. intelligence officials, and disappeared from public view before presiding over a parliamentary session in April, when he looked gaunt and aged.
To contact the reporters on this story: Heejin Koo in Seoul at firstname.lastname@example.org; Bomi Lim in Seoul at email@example.com.
Last Updated: May 27, 2009 10:23 EDT