North Korea said it was going ahead with threatened retaliatory action by suspending all border talks with its southern neighbour, after Seoul refused to apologise for recent remarks by its military chief.
North Korea announced Thursday it was suspending all dialogue with South Korea and closing the border to Seoul officials, its toughest action in a week of growing cross-border tensions.
The North said it went ahead with its threatened retaliatory action after Seoul refused to apologise for recent remarks by its military chief.
"Our military does not engage in empty talk," the Korean Central News Agency said, disregarding an appeal from South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak for "straightforward" talking to calm the atmosphere.
The agency was disclosing a message delivered earlier to Seoul by the North's chief delegate to inter-Korean military talks, Lieutenant-General Kim Yong-Chol.
Kim last weekend vowed to cut dialogue unless the South apologised for remarks by its new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), General Kim Tae-Young.
The North interpreted these as authorising a preemptive military strike.
Seoul's defence ministry on Wednesday said the North was twisting the JCS chief's remarks and told it to stop raising tensions. The North Thursday dismissed that response as "excuses."
"The South's military authorities... will never avoid responsibility for suspending all North-South dialogue and blocking the (border) passage," KCNA said.
Lee, a conservative who took office on February 25, has angered the North by adopting a tougher line on relations.
His liberal predecessors had practised a decade-long "sunshine" engagement policy, under which aid and investment worth billions of dollars flowed northwards and cross-border exchanges expanded hugely.
Lee says he will link economic aid to the North's progress in nuclear disarmament and raise its widely criticised human rights policy.
A six-nation denuclearisation deal is stalled by disagreements over the North's promised declaration of all its nuclear activities.
"What the new government wants is a more straightforward dialogue between South and North Korea... we want North Korea to open its mind for sincere dialogue," Lee said earlier Thursday, his first comments since Pyongyang this week labelled him a traitor and US sycophant.
Analysts say the North may be testing Lee's resolve and trying to sway opinion against his conservative party in next week's parliamentary election.
The flare-up began March 27, when the North expelled South Korean officials from a joint industrial complex. The next day, it test-fired missiles and accused Seoul of breaching the sea border.
Over the weekend, official media threatened to turn the South into "ashes" should any preemptive strike be launched.
Yang Moo-Jin, of the University of North Korean Studies, told AFP the North is following a pre-set plan to raise tensions. Apart from the border closure, Yang said, there may be more missile tests or naval manoeuvres near the disputed sea border.
The South's unification ministry said it did not believe civilian exchanges would be affected. Two Seoul-funded projects in the North -- the Kumgang resort and the Kaesong industrial complex -- are major hard currency earners for the impoverished nation.
Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-Nyoun said hundreds of South Korean government officials crossed the border for various contacts and dialogue last year.
The JCS chief Kim reportedly told parliament last week, in answer to a question, that Seoul would strike North Korea's nuclear facilities if it showed signs of attacking the South with nuclear weapons.
"What JSC chief Kim said is seen as a natural and ordinary reply," Lee said. "It shouldn't be interpreted differently. So North Korea's attitude is not desirable."
Returning to the attack, the North Thursday said Lee's government "is driving north-south relations to confrontation and catastrophe."
The statement from the official Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland was quoted by Yonhap news agency.
Date created : 2008-04-03