South’s warning seen as ‘declaration’

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South’s warning seen as ‘declaration’

For the second time in less than two weeks, North Korea threatened to take military actions against South Korea.

The North’s General Staff of the Korean People’s Army said South Korea’s recent remarks about a “pre-emptive strike” against any indication of a nuclear attack from the North were “an open declaration of war.”

Last week, Kim Tae-young, the South’s defense minister, said the nation would strike the North first upon detecting signs of a nuclear offensive. The North’s military called the statement an “outrageous outburst” and said it will take “prompt and decisive military actions against any attempt of the South Korean puppet authorities .?.?. to violate our dignity and sovereignty.”

North Korea continues to mix proposals for dialogue with hostile rhetoric. On Jan. 15, the North threatened “a holy war of retaliation” in response to the South’s reported preparation of a contingency plan in case of unrest in the North. A week later, the North called for inter-Korean military talks to discuss problems on the Kaesong Industrial Complex north of the border. The two Koreas haven’t held military dialogue since October 2008.

Earlier last week, the North and the South agreed to hold working-level talks with the South’s Unification Ministry on Feb. 1 to try to resolve outstanding issues on Kaesong, including easier cross-border trips for South Korean businessmen and the North’s demand for a wage hike for North Korean workers there. This meeting would be separate from the military talks.

Seoul had no immediate reaction to the North’s latest statement.

As for the proposal for the military talks, South Korea is in no hurry, either. A senior official at the Defense Ministry said the Unification Ministry talks must be carried out first and only then the two Koreas would sit down to deal with military-related matters.

The North this month said it wants to talk about resuming the suspended tour programs to Mount Kumgang resort north of the border. The South has yet to follow up on the proposal.

Optimists among South Korean officials have said the North’s recent calls for talks indicate that international sanctions on Pyongyang are working.

The South has maintained that the international community would not consider lifting sanctions unless the North returns to the six-party talks and makes progress on denuclearization.

By Yoo Jee-ho []

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