Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Muster or Bluster? North Korea "on highest alert!"

NYTIMES: SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea’s military said it put all its missile and artillery units on “the highest alert” on Tuesday, ordering them to be ready to hit South Korea, as well as the United States and its military installations in Hawaii and Guam.

The threat from the North’s Korean People’s Army Supreme Command came only hours after President Park Geun-hye of South Korea warned that the North Korean leadership could ensure its survival only when it abandons its nuclear weapons, long-range missiles, provocations and threats.

North Korea said on Tuesday that all of its strategic rocket and long-range artillery units “are assigned to strike bases of the U.S. imperialist aggressor troops in the U.S. mainland and on Hawaii and Guam and other operational zones in the Pacific as well as all the enemy targets in South Korea and its vicinity.”

“They should be mindful that everything will be reduced to ashes and flames the moment the first attack is unleashed,” the North Korean command said in a statement carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have risen after North Korea’s launching of a three-stage rocket in December and its third nuclear test last month. In response, Washington and Seoul pushed for a United Nations Security Council resolution imposing more sanctions on North Korea and this month began their annual joint military drills intended to warn North Korea against attacking the South.

North Korea has since issued a torrent of threats to turn Washington and Seoul into a “sea of fire.” Its leader, Kim Jong-un, who has inherited the "military first" policy of his late father, Kim Jong-il, has made a round of visits to military units in the last week. He inspected live-fire artillery and amphibious landing exercises, ordering his soldiers to send the enemies “to the bottom of the sea as they run wild like wolves threatened with fire,” according to North Korean media.

In South Korea, Ms. Park, the first woman to serve as the country’s president, showed her own resolve on Tuesday, visiting a national cemetery to pay respect to the 46 sailors who were killed in 2010 when a South Korean navy corvette sank in an explosion that the South said was caused by a North Korean torpedo attack.

“I strongly urge North Korea to change,” Ms. Park said in a nationally televised speech observing the three-year anniversary of the episode. “North Korea must immediately abandon its thought that nuclear weapons will protect its regime.”

Although North Korea denied responsibility for the sinking and some South Koreans questioned the credibility of their government's investigation, which assigned blame on the North, the episode has become for many South Koreans an emotional symbol of North Korean hostility. On Monday, the South's conservative daily Chosun Ilbo cited unnamed government officials as saying that if North Korea launched a provocation like the Cheonan sinking, the South Korean military would retaliate by launching missiles at gigantic statues of Mr. Kim's grandfather and father, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, which are objects of worship in the North.

The South Korean Defense Ministry would not comment on the report, but vowed a “thousandfold, ten-thousandfold retaliation” against a Cheonan-like provocation from the North.

Calling the monuments “symbols of the dignity of the supreme leadership” of North Korea, the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, an agency in charge of relations with Seoul, said on Tuesday that the North would “destroy the den of confrontation, including Chongwadae, hotbed of all evils.” Chongwadae, or “the Blue House,” is the South Korean presidential office.

North Korea warned that Ms. Park should not repeat the “treacherous acts” of her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, whose hard-line policy, coupled with North Korean provocations, resulted in a prolonged chill on the peninsula.

Many South Koreans fear that North Korea might attempt localized military attacks on the South to try to raise tensions and force Washington and Seoul to return to the negotiating table with concessions.

On Tuesday, three Internet sites run by North Korean defectors and anti-Pyongyang activists reported hacking attacks that disrupted or paralyzed their operations. These Web sites, including Daily NK, often carry articles criticizing the North Korean leadership.

The attacks came just a week after synchronized virus attacks paralyzed the computer networks of three broadcasters and three banks in South Korea. Officials here were investigating the possibility of North Korean involvement. Separately, they said they were also investigating what caused temporary disruptions in Internet access for seven provincial governments on Tuesday. South Korea and the United States say that North Korea has trained hackers for cyberwarfare.

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