Associated Press & Voice of America & Al Jazeera – 2009-03-09 22:48:51
N. Korea Threatens ‘War’ if Satellite is Shot Down
SEOUL, South Korea, (March 9, 2009) — North Korea put its armed forces on standby for war Monday and threatened retaliation against anyone seeking to stop the regime from launching a satellite into space in the latest barrage of threats from the communist regime.
Pyongyang also cut off a military hot line with the South, causing a complete shutdown of their border and stranding hundreds of South Koreans working in an industrial zone in the North Korean border city of Kaesong.
Monday’s warning came as US and South Korean troops kicked off annual war games across the South, exercises the North has condemned as preparation for an invasion. Pyongyang last week threatened South Korean passenger planes flying near its airspace during the drills.
Analysts say the regime is trying to grab President Barack Obama’s attention as his administration formulates its North Korea policy.
The North also indicated it was pushing ahead with plans to fire a communications satellite into space, a provocative launch neighboring governments believe could be a cover for a missile test.
U.S. and Japanese officials have suggested they could shoot down a North Korean missile if necessary, further incensing Pyongyang.
“Shooting our satellite for peaceful purposes will precisely mean a war,” the general staff of the North’s military said in a statement carried Monday by the official Korean Central News Agency.
Any interception will draw “a just retaliatory strike operation not only against all the interceptor means involved but against the strongholds” of the U.S., Japan and South Korea, it said. The North has ordered military personnel “fully combat ready” for war, KCNA said in a separate dispatch.
Obama’s special envoy on North Korea again urged Pyongyang not to fire a missile, which he said would be an “extremely ill-advised” move.
“Whether they describe it as a satellite launch or something else makes no difference” since both would violate a UN Security Council resolution banning the North from ballistic activity, Stephen Bosworth told reporters after talks with his South Korean counterpart.
South Korea’s Defense Ministry spokesman Won Tae-jae downplayed the North’s threats as “rhetoric” but said the country’s military was ready to deal with any contingencies.
Analysts say a satellite or missile launch could occur late this month or in early April when the North’s new legislature, elected Sunday, is expected to convene its first session to confirm Kim Jong Il as leader.
Ties between the two Koreas have plunged since South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took office a year ago halting aid unless the North fulfills an international promise to dismantle its nuclear program.
An angered North Korea suspended the reconciliation process and key joint projects with Seoul, and has stepped up the stream of belligerence toward the South.
Severing the military hot line for the duration of the 12-day joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises leaves the two Koreas without any means of communication at a time when even an accidental skirmish could develop into a full-blown battle.
The two Koreas use the hot line to exchange information about goods and people crossing into Kaesong. Its suspension halted traffic and stranded about 570 South Koreans who were working in Kaesong.
About 80 had planned to return to the South on Monday but were stuck there overnight since they cannot travel after nightfall. Earlier, some 700 South Koreans who intended to go to Kaesong on Monday were unable to cross the border, the Unification Ministry said. All South Koreans in Kaesong are safe, the ministry said as it called on Pyongyang to restore the hot line immediately.
The two Koreas technically remain in a state of war since their three-year conflict ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty, in 1953. Hundreds of thousands of troops are amassed on each side of the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas, making the Korean border one of the world’s most heavily armed.
The United States, which has 28,5000 troops in South Korea, routinely holds military exercises with the South. Pyongyang routinely condemns them as rehearsals for invasion despite assurances from Seoul and Washington that the drills are defensive.
The exercises, which will involve some 26,000 U.S. troops, an unspecified number of South Korean soldiers and a U.S. aircraft carrier, are “not tied in any way to any political or real world event,” Gen. Walter Sharp, commander of the U.S. troops, said Monday.
North Korea Warns of War as US, S. Korean Drills Begin
Kurt Achin / Voice of America News
SEOUL (March 9, 2009) — Several-hundred South Koreans remain stranded in North Korea after the North’s decision to cut a military hotline and seal its border to the South. As the United States and South Korea begin annual joint military drills, Pyongyang is warning of war if there is an attempt to shoot down a rocket it is believed preparing for launch.
North Korea cut its final military hotline with South Korea, ending the usual communication system for arranging limited crossings of the tense inter-Korean border.
Several-hundred South Koreans who manage a joint industrial park in North Korea are stranded there, for now. South Korean Unification Ministry Spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun says the government is taking measures to ensure their safety, which he says is a top priority.
He says the South Korean government has been patient with North Korea’s recent actions, and demands it stop its tension-raising behavior.
North Korea says it cut communications in response to what it calls “war exercises” underway between the United States and South Korea. An announcer on North Korean state-run television says the joint drills are like a declaration of war, and pose a serious threat to the country.
The United States deploys about 28,000 troops in South Korea to deter the North from invading South Korea, as it did in 1950. Top U.S. and South Korean officers say the annual exercises are routine and defensive in nature.
North Korea lashes out against the drills every year, but this year tension is heightened by North Korea’s recent announcement it plans to launch a “satellite” in the near future. The United States and Japan view that as a cover for a long-range missile test. They have not ruled out the possibility of shooting the North’s rocket down.
Pyongyang Warns of Dire Consequences
In a separate announcement on official North Korean media, a military officer warns of retaliation against any attempt to intercept the rocket. He says such an attempt would mean war.
Newly appointed U.S. envoy to North Korea Stephen Bosworth said in Seoul a North Korean launch would be a clear violation of a U.N. resolution imposed in 2006. He says the United States wants dialogue with Pyongyang, but not at the expense of engagement with U.S. regional partners.
“We are basically committed to being willing to have dialogue with anyone. That does not mean we are going to be automatically in agreement, and it certainly does not mean in this case that our commitment to the six party process is any less,” he said.
Bosworth says six-nation talks aimed at getting rid of North Korea’s nuclear weapons will hopefully be reconvened “in the near future.”
North Korea Threatens ‘War’
Balance of Forces
• NORTH KOREA
Army: 1.12 million troops (plus 4.7 million reserves)
Tanks: c. 3,500
Air force: 1,500 aircraft *
Navy: 420 warships
• SOUTH KOREA
Army: 587,000 troops (plus 29,000 US troops based in country)
Air force: 790 aircraft
Navy: 162 warships
Sources: SIPRI, Globalsecurity.org
*Most North Korean aircraft are considered obsolete and possibly unable to fly due to lack of fuel and spare parts.
(March 9, 2009) — North Korea’s military has gone on full alert and threatened “merciless retaliatory blows” just hours before US and South Korean forces began annual military exercises.
Pyongyang has also warned of war if what it calls a satellite launch – but what intelligence analysts believe is cover for a long range missile test – is shot down.
“Shooting our satellite for peaceful purposes will precisely mean a war,” said a statement carried on the North’s official Korean Central news agency (KCNA) on Monday. The statement warned of “prompt counter strikes by the most powerful military means”.
A day earlier North Korea threatened to “deal merciless retaliatory blows” if US and South Korean forces intrude “even an inch” into North Korean territory.
The US and South Korea began joint military exercises on Monday involving 26,000 US troops, more than 30,000 South Korean soldiers and the aircraft carrier USS John C Stennis. Commanders say the Key Resolve-Foal Eagle exercises are designed to test the ability to deploy troops and equipment to the Korean peninsula in the event of an emergency.
The North has described the 12 days of operations taking place in more than 20 locations across South Korea as “extremely adventurous and dangerous military provocations … an undisguised military threat”.
In a statement the Korean People’s Army described the exercises as “unprecedented in the number of the aggressor forces involved and in their duration”.
“A war will break out if the US imperialists and the warmongers of the South Korean puppet military hurl the huge troops and sophisticated strike means to mount an attack.”
A separate statement said that North Korea would cut off military communications lines with the South during the exercises since maintaining normal channels would be “nonsensical”. Pyongyang regularly accuses the US and South Korea of hostile intentions before the annual exercises, which have been held for years without major incident.
On Sunday, KCNA accused the Americans of being “arch criminals prodding the North and the South into armed conflict”. Tensions on the Korean peninsula have been rising, with Pyongyang declaring last month that it was “fully ready for an all-out confrontation” with South Korea.
The North announced in January that it was scrapping all agreements with the South, including a 1991 pact that recognised the Northern Limit Line, a sea border drawn unilaterally by US-led United Nations forces after the 1950-1953 Korean war.
On Thursday, Pyongyang said it could not guarantee the safety of the South’s commercial flights off the east coast of the peninsula, where the missile launch site is believed to be located. Airlines have said they would avoid North Korean airspace as a precaution, while the South Korean government has demanded that Pyongyang withdraw what it called an “inhumane” threat to civilian aircraft.
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