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North and South Korea at odds over comments

The South was threatened with destruction
March 30, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
North Korea threatened South Korea with destruction Sunday after Seoul's top military officer said he would consider attacking the communist nation if it tried to carry out a nuclear attack. The statement from North Korea's official news agency marked the third straight day of bellicose rhetoric from the North, which is angry over the harsher line the South's new president has taken against the country since assuming office last month.

"Our military will not sit idle until warmongers launch a pre-emptive strike," said an unidentified KCNA military commentator. "Everything will be in ashes, not just a sea of fire, if our advanced pre-emptive strike once begins."

On Friday, North Korea test-fired a barrage of missiles into the sea and warned it would "mercilessly wipe out" any South Korean warships that violate its waters near their disputed sea border.

Such rhetoric by North Korea at times of increased tensions is not rare, and it comes just two days before a scheduled visit to South Korea by the chief U.S. negotiator in North Korean nuclear disarmament talks.

Sunday's statement also warned that the North would suspend all scheduled inter-Korean dialogue unless Seoul retracts and apologizes for the remark by its new top military leader.

Kim Tae-young, chairman of the South's Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a parliamentary hearing Wednesday that the military would strike a suspected North Korean nuclear weapons site if Pyongyang attempts to attack the South with atomic bombs.

His office later said he was talking about a general military principle dealing with outside threats, not about launching an unprovoked pre-emptive attack on the North.

South Korea's Defense Ministry said Sunday that it would decide whether to send a response to the North over its demand for a retraction in a few days.

The North Korean military commentator reaffirmed that Pyongyang would ban South Korean officials, including military officers, from crossing the border.

The statement did not say when the ban would take effect or how long it would last.

South Korean officials have occasionally traveled across the two countries' heavily fortified border for talks.

 

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