SEOUL — North Korea’s new leader has ordered “a powerful retaliatory strike” by the army unit that shelled a Southern island in 2010 if U.S.-South Korean drills violate Pyongyang’s territory, state media said Feb. 26.
The comments came a day before the start of Key Resolve, a joint U.S.-South Korean computerized command post exercise, which will continue until March 9.
Kim Jong-Un, who took power in the North after his father died in December, met the 1st and 4th Battalions of the Korean People’s Army 4th Corps at a base near the border with the South, Pyongyang’s official KCNA news agency said.
It added that the 4th Battalion carried out the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in November 2010, which left four South Koreans including two civilians dead.
Kim was quoted saying the area was a “hot spot where a war may break out any moment due to the enemy’s reckless provocations for aggression,” urging troops to stay alert over “the enemy’s preparations for a new war of aggression.”
“He ordered them to make a powerful retaliatory strike at the enemy, should the enemy intrude even 0.001 mm into the waters of the country where its sovereignty is exercised,” KCNA said, without specifying the date of the visit.
Hong Hyun-Ik of the South’s Sejong Institute said Kim’s latest move was aimed at forging an image as a brave young leader and to garner loyalty from the powerful military.
“It’s eventually aimed to further cement his leadership by highlighting the country’s Songun (military-first) policy and solidify the new leadership as quickly as possible,” Yonhap quoted Hong as saying.
The North’s National Defence Commission (NDC) has denounced the annual drill, which will be followed by joint air, ground and naval field training exercise Foal Eagle from March 1 to April 30, as a “silent declaration of war.”
“Our army and people will foil the moves of the group of traitors to the nation and warmongers at home and abroad for a new war with a sacred war of our own style,” the NDC said Feb. 25.
A South Korean defense ministry spokesman told AFP that Seoul would go ahead with the planned drills despite the threats.
The military has strengthened monitoring on the North’s activities to guard against potential attacks, Yonhap news agency said.
RF-4 and U-2 reconnaissance aircraft will be fully mobilised and F-15K fighter jets will be on emergency standby, Yonhap said, citing an unnamed military official.
Artillery units deployed near the land border will also stand ready to immediately hit back when attacked, it said. The ministry spokesman declined to comment.
Cross-border tension has been high since Seoul accused Pyongyang of torpedoing a warship with the loss of 46 lives near the tense sea border off the west coast in March 2010.
The North denied involvement but went on to shell Yeonpyeong, sparking brief fears of war.
The communist state’s rhetoric has taken an increasingly hostile tone since Kim, believed to be in his late 20s, took over from his father and longtime leader Kim Jong-Il, who died of a heart attack in December.
The North last week vowed “merciless retaliatory strikes” if any shells landed in waters claimed by Pyongyang during a live-fire artillery exercise by the South near the disputed border on the Yellow Sea.
But in the event it took no military action in response to the drill.