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Pyongyang threatens military strikes against South

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-05-28

North Korea has threatened to respond with a 'powerful' military strike against its southern neighbour if Seoul takes part in a US-led initiative to intercept shipments suspected of being involved in building weapons of mass destruction.

North Korea, facing international sanction for this week’s nuclear test, threatened on Wednesday to attack the South after Seoul joined a U.S.-led initiative to check vessels suspected of carrying equipment for weapons of mass destruction.


The threat came after South Korean media reported Pyongyang had restarted a plant that makes weapons-grade plutonium.


U.S. President Barack Obama is working to form a united response to Monday’s nuclear test, widely denounced as a major threat to stability that violates U.N. resolutions and brings the reclusive North closer to having a reliable nuclear bomb.


A North Korean army spokesman reiterated that the country was no longer bound by the armistice signed at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War because Washington had ignored its responsibility as a signatory by drawing Seoul into the anti-proliferation effort.


“Any hostile act against our peaceful vessels including search and seizure will be considered an unpardonable infringement on our sovereignty and we will immediately respond with a powerful military strike,” the spokesman for the North’s army was quoted as saying by the official KCNA news agency.


South Korea announced on Tuesday it was joining the naval exercise, called the Proliferation Security Initiative.


An angry Pyongyang, which relies on arms sales for cash, had said it considered such a move an act of war.


Russia on Wednesday called the North Korean ambassador to the foreign ministry where he was told Moscow had "serious concern" over this week's nuclear test, a ministry statement said.


"During the talks that were held, we let him (the envoy) know of the serious concerns Russia has regarding the underground nuclear test conducted in North Korea on May 25," the statement said.


The nuclear test has raised concern about Pyongyang spreading weapons to other countries or groups. Washington has accused it of trying try to sell nuclear know-how to Syria and others.


The rival Koreas have fought two deadly naval clashes in 1999 and 2002 near a disputed maritime border off their west coast and the North has threatened in the past year to strike South Korean vessels in those Yellow Sea waters.


Pyongyang also test-fired a third short-range missile late on Tuesday after it added to tensions with the launch of two others earlier in the day, the South’s Yonhap news agency quoted a unnamed government source as saying.


The secretive state appears to have made good on a threat issued in April of restarting a facility at its Yongbyon nuclear plant that extracts plutonium, South Korea’s largest newspaper, Chosun Ilbo, reported.


“There are various indications that reprocessing facilities in Yongbyon resumed operation (and) have been detected by U.S. surveillance satellite, and these including steam coming out of the facility,” it quoted an unnamed government source as saying.


The Soviet-era Yongbyon plant was being taken apart under a six-country disarmament-for-aid deal and there were no signs yet that the North, which conducted its only prior nuclear test in October 2006, was again separating plutonium.


Seoul’s financial markets, which had fallen in the wake of the nuclear test, rose on Wednesday though traders said investors were still nervous about when the North would try to be more provocative and ratchet up tension in the region.


Kim’s health, succession in focus


Analysts say Pyongyang’s military grandstanding is partly aimed at tightening leader Kim Jong-il’s grip on power so he can better engineer his succession and divert attention from the country’s weak economy, which has fallen into near ruin since he took over in 1994.


Many speculate Kim’s suspected stroke in August raised concerns about succession and he wants his third son to be the next leader of Asia’s only communist dynasty.


The country, which has a history of using military threats to squeeze concessions out of global powers, may have ramped up its provocations early in Obama’s presidency in order to have more cards to play during his time in office.


There may be little the international community can do to deter the North, which has been punished for years by sanctions and is so poor it relies on aid to feed its 23 million people.


A U.S. Treasury Department official said it was weighing possible action to isolate the North financially.


A 2005 U.S. clampdown on a Macau bank suspected of laundering money for Pyongyang effectively cut the country off from the international banking system.


Japan’s upper house of parliament denounced the test and said in a resolution the government should step up its sanctions.


North Koreans celebrated, with a rally in the capital of top cadres, KCNA said.


“The nuclear test was a grand undertaking to protect the supreme interests of the DPRK (North Korea) and defend the dignity and sovereignty of the country and nation,” it quoted a communist party official as saying.


North Korea’s meagre supply of fissile material is likely down to enough for five to seven bombs after Monday’s test, experts have said. It could probably extract enough plutonium from spent rods at the plant for another bomb’s worth of plutonium by the end of this year.


The North’s next step may to be resume operations at all of Yongbyon, with experts saying it could take the North up to a year to reverse disablement steps. Once running, it can produce enough plutonium for a bomb a year.


The hermit state has also threatened to launch a long-range ballistic missile if the Security Council does not apologise for tightening sanctions to punish it for an April launch widely seen as a missile test that violated U.N. measures.


Date created : 2009-05-27