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Asia-pacific

North Korea scraps accords with South

Latest update : 2009-01-30

In the latest round in a war of words with its southern neighbour, North Korea has declared that it was scrapping all accords with South Korea, claiming Seoul had pushed relations between the two countries to "the brink of a war".

REUTERS - North Korea said on Friday it was scrapping all accords with the South, the latest in a series of verbal attacks on its neighbour that analysts say are more aimed at grabbing the attention of new U.S. President Barack Obama.

One analyst said the latest rise in tension increased the chances of a military clash on the heavily armed border that has divided the two Koreas for more than half a century.

"There is neither way to improve (relations) nor hope to bring them on track," North Korea's KCNA news agency quoted the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea as saying.

Tension had reached "such extremes" that "inter-Korean relations have reached the brink of a war", KCNA said, using a phrase commonly carried by North Korean state media.

South Korean officials were not immediately available for comment.

Friday's threat focused largely on a basic accord the two Koreas struck in 1991 that analysts said Pyongyang might feel inadequately reflects its position on disputed ocean waters.

Other deals were reached during a brief period of detente that followed a summit between the leaders of North and South Korea in June 2000, which led to reunions of separated families, communication systems to defuse military tensions and rail and road links across their heavily armed border.

Impoverished North Korea has bridled at the hardline policy of the year-old conservative government in the South which has ended a free flow of unconditional aid. Seoul has promised massive aid and investment only if Pyongyang is serious about giving up its nuclear weapons programme.

But the isolated state has made clear it is not ready to sacrifice the little international leverage it has in the form of a nuclear threat, without first establishing diplomatic relations with the United States.

In recent months, it has all but closed the few border links with the South that were open, though a lucrative industrial park operated by Seoul just inside its border has remained open.

"First, all the agreed points concerning the issue of putting an end to the political and military confrontation between the north and the south will be nullified," KCNA quoted the committee as saying.

"Second, the Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-aggression, Cooperation and Exchange between the North and the South and the points on the military boundary line in the West Sea stipulated in its appendix will be nullified," it said.

SEEKING UPPER HAND

Korea University professor Yoo Ho-yeol said the latest comments had three main aims: to pressure South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, scare the United States and to drum up political support at home.

North Korea had hinted in a New Year's message that it was willing to work with Obama by saying it wanted good relations with countries that treated it in an amicable manner.

"The North probably believes that this type of thing is the most effective way of getting the upper hand with the U.S. ahead of negotiations by raising tension," Yoo said.

The North's bureaucracy works slowly to form policy and it may still be trying to figure out its approach with the new Obama team, analysts said, making it easier for Pyongyang to direct its anger of Washington's allies, including Seoul.

"What is worrying is that the possibility of a military clash is rising," Yoo said, pointing to the possibility of broader confrontation than naval skirmishes in 1999 and 2002.

The latest move follows comments by a U.S. national security official that the secretive state's leader, Kim Jong-il, appeared to have rebounded politically from his recent health scare and is making major decisions.

Date created : 2009-01-30

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