Two Koreas take tough stance as tensions rise
The two Koreas are still talking tough one month after the North’s artillery bombardment sent tensions soaring, with Pyongyang threatening nuclear war and Seoul vowing strong retaliation for any new attack.
One day after deploying tanks, artillery and jet fighters in a military show of force, Seoul’s Defence Ministry said on Friday that a giant Christmas tree near the North Korean border would stay lit up till January 8.
The move is likely to anger Pyongyang since the date marks the birthday of its heir apparent Kim Jong-Un. The communist North sees the tree topped with a glowing cross as a provocative propaganda symbol.
The ministry said it hoped to send “a message of peace to the North” and the timing was just a coincidence.
An international think-tank urged the two Koreas to accept international arbitration to redraw the flashpoint disputed Yellow Sea border.
“Measures must urgently be adopted to reduce the possibility of all-out war”, the International Crisis Group said in a report.
The North said on Thursday it was ready for a “sacred war” using its nuclear weapons, as the South held its second live-fire drill in a week.
Pyongyang’s Armed Forces Minister, Kim Yong-Chun, said the South’s firing drill on Monday, on Yeonpyeong island near the Yellow Sea border, was a preparation for a new Korean war.
“The revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK [North Korea] are getting fully prepared to launch a sacred war of justice of Korean style based on the nuclear deterrent at any time necessary to cope with the enemies’ actions deliberately pushing the situation to the brink of a war,” Kim said.
The North on November 23 bombarded Yeonpyeong, killing four people including civilians. Pyongyang said it was retaliating for a South Korean firing drill that dropped shells into waters that it claims are North Korean territory.
The South’s military, accused of a perceived feeble response to last month’s bombardment, has been stressing it will hit back harder next time, using air power.
President Lee Myung-Bak, visiting a frontline army unit on Thursday, warned of severe retaliation for any new attack.
“We’ve endured for long enough.
We thought we could maintain peace on this land if we endured, but that was not the case,” Lee said. “Now we need to strongly retaliate to maintain peace, deter provocations and prevent war.”
People in the North, the president said, “are almost starving to death, and with the money spent to make atomic bombs, people could live”.
The United States has firmly backed its ally the South and urged China to do more to restrain its own ally, the North.
The North’s latest comments prompted the US State Department to chide it for its “belligerent tricks”.
“We need constructive actions, not heated rhetoric,” spokesperson Philip Crowley said.
Despite earlier strong threats, the North did not retaliate for Monday’s firing drill on Yeonpyeong. It also offered nuclear concessions, according to US politician Bill Richardson, who ended a visit to Pyongyang this week.
Richardson said the North agreed to readmit UN atomic inspectors and negotiate the sale of nuclear fuel rods to a third party.
The New Mexico governor, who has longstanding contacts with North Korea, said on Thursday the United States should consider resuming talks with the North.
Richardson said a resumption of six-nation talks—under which the North earlier agreed to give up its nuclear weapons in return for aid—could help prevent a new escalation of tensions.
If “they don’t react militarily again to this recent drill, then maybe the time has come for the six-party talks”, he told CNN, referring to the South Korean exercise staged Thursday.—AFP