By Kim Young-jin
North Korea ratcheted up tensions Thursday over South Korean military drills near the hotly-contested maritime border a day earlier, threatening to turn Cheong Wa Dae into a “sea of fire.”
The rhetoric came a day after the South conducted a major military drill near the sea border to mark the first anniversary of the North’s deadly shelling of Yeonpyeong Island that sent inter-Korean tensions soaring.
In a statement carried by its official Korean Central News Agency, Pyongyang said it would carry out its threat if even a single shot from the South entered its territory. The Stalinist state issues similar threats to the city of Seoul with regularity.
It reminded South Koreans of the tension that engulfed the peninsula in the wake of the shelling that killed two Marines and two civilians on the tiny fishing island. The North claims it was goaded into the attack by military drills that Seoul says were routine.
On Wednesday, while the nation observed the anniversary, the South mobilized aircraft, artillery, rocket launchers and other weapons to the nearby island of Baengnyeong while vowing to “crush the enemy” in response to any provocation. Officials said the drill did not include live-fire exercises.
The threat to Cheong Wa Dae comes after the North had held back on its nasty rhetoric against the Lee Myung-bak administration amid efforts to cool tensions and resume multilateral denuclearization negotiations.
“It was a warning to the South not to make any ‘provocations’ against the North,” said Yoo Ho-yeol, a North Korea expert at Korea University. “While the South sees the drills as deterrence, the North probably feels threatened by the increased capabilities on the border islands.”
Seoul and Pyongyang have held two rounds of talks in recent months in a bid to restart the six-party nuclear talks that also include the United States, Japan, Russia and China.
Yoo added that the North — ultimately seeking aid — could have been trying to bolster its position ahead of further talks with the inflammatory remark.
“It seems to be a tactic to show that they have other reasons besides securing aid to hold dialogue. They want to remind Seoul that they have their own ways to apply pressure.”
Analysts say Pyongyang is doing all it can to gather resources ahead of next year, when it has promised to emerge as a “strong and prosperous state.”
The two sides remain technically at war since their 1950-53 fratricidal conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. Pyongyang has long contested the maritime border established by the United Nations.
Since the attack, the South has bolstered its readiness in the West Sea, updating its plans to deal with contingencies and rules of engagement and announcing it will complete a joint operational response plan with the United States.
`청와대 불바다' 위협
북한은 24일 우리 군(軍)이 전날 연평도 포격도발 1년을 맞아 연평도와 백령도 일대에서 실시한 군사훈련에 대해 "우리 혁명적 무장력은 그 어떤 군사적 도발에도 대응할 만단의 결전진입 태세를 갖추고 있다"고 밝혔다.
조선중앙통신에 따르면 북한군은 이날 `최고사령부 보도'를 통해 "남조선 괴뢰군부 호전광들은 23일 오후 1시부터 조선서해 5개 섬 지역과 그 주변 수역에서 대규모적인 반공화국 전쟁연습 소동을 벌리는 길에 들어섰다"며 이같이 밝혔다.
북한군은 "만일 또다시 우리의 존엄을 함부로 건드리고 신성한 영해, 영공, 영토에 단 한발의 총포탄이라도 떨어진다면 연평도의 그 불바다가 청와대의 불바다로, 청와대의 불바다가 역적패당의 본거지를 송두리째 없애버리는 불바다로 타번지게 된다는 것을 명심해야 한다"고 위협했다.
또 "지난해 연평도 포격전은 우리 군대의 사전경고에도 불구하고 신성한 공화국 영해에 선불질을 해온 도발자들에 대한 정정당당한 자위적 조치였다"며 "연평도 포격전 1돌을 계기로 응당한 교훈을 찾을 대신 우리를 걸고 대규모적인 반공화국 전쟁연습 소동을 벌이는 것은 우리 군대와 인민에 대한 새로운 정치군사적 도발"이라고 주장했다. (연합)