N. Korea says inter-Korean relations enter into war phase

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N. Korea says inter-Korean relations enter into war phase

North Korea said Saturday that inter-Korean relations have entered into a state of war and all cross-border issues will be dealt with in a wartime manner, the latest in a near-daily series of strident threats against the South in recent weeks.

The warning came a day after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un put strategic rocket units on standby, threatening to strike targets in South Korea, the U.S. mainland, and its military bases in Hawaii and Guam, in anger after nuclear-capable U.S. B-2 stealth bombers participated in joint military drills in the South.

"From this moment, the North-South relations will be put at the state of war, and all the issues arousing between the North and the South will be dealt with according to the wartime regulations," the North said in a special statement issued by the country's government, parties and other organizations, according to the Korean Central News Agency.

"The state of neither peace nor war has ended on the Korean Peninsula," it said.

The communist nation also said it will "immediately punish any slightest provocation hurting its dignity and sovereignty with resolute and merciless physical actions without any prior notice."

Pyongyang has sharply ratcheted up belligerent rhetoric in recent weeks with repeated war threats against the South in anger over joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States as well as a new U.N. Security Council resolution adopted for its third nuclear test.

In Saturday's statement, the North denounced the mobilization of the U.S stealth bombers for the exercise as "an unpardonable and heinous provocation, and an open challenge."

"If the U.S. and the South Korean puppet group perpetrate a military provocation for igniting a war against the DPRK (North Korea) in any area, including the five islands in the West Sea of Korea or in the area along the Military Demarcation Line, it will not be limited to a local war but develop into an all-out war, a nuclear war," the North said in the statement.

The South's defense ministry denounced the recent series of menacing rhetoric by the North as unacceptable threats that hurt peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, and pledged to thoroughly punish Pyongyang in the event of provocations.

It also said this week's exercises involving stealth bombers were defensive in nature.

"Our military is maintaining full preparedness to leave no blind point in safeguarding the lives and safety of the people," the ministry said in a statement.

Despite harsh threats, the North is showing no unusual military moves, a military source said.

In Washington, the White House said it takes the North's warning seriously.

"We've seen reports of a new and unconstructive statement from North Korea," said Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the National Security Council, according to AFP. "We take these threats seriously and remain in close contact with our South Korean allies."

Hayden said the North's threat follows a pattern of bellicose rhetoric and threats.

"We continue to take additional measures against the North Korean threat, including our plan to increase the U.S. ground-based interceptors and early warning and tracking radar," she said.

Despite Pyongyang's latest threat, border crossings by South Koreans to and from the joint industrial complex in the North Korean border city of Kaesong proceeded normally, beginning with 78 people entering the complex at 8:30 a.m, Seoul's unification ministry said.

The North notified the South of its approval of the border crossings via the park's management committee earlier in the day, the ministry said. On Saturday, a total of 241 South Koreans were scheduled to travel to the factory park, with 510 people set to be coming back, it said.

The complex, where 123 South Korean companies run factories with cheap North Korean labor, is a major source of hard currency for the impoverished communist nation. [Yonhap]
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