North Korea places South islet in sights
By Park Chan-kyong ,AFPSEOUL -- North Korea leader Kim Jong Un threatened to “wipe out” a South Korean island as Pyongyang came under new economic and diplomatic fire Tuesday from U.S. sanctions and U.N. charges of gross rights abuses.
March 13, 2013, 12:15 am TWN
Military tensions on the Korean peninsula have risen to their highest level for years, with the communist state under the youthful Kim threatening nuclear war in response to U.N. sanctions imposed after its third atomic test last month.
It has also announced its unilateral shredding of the 60-year-old Korean War armistice and nonaggression pacts with Seoul in protest at a joint South Korean-U.S. military exercise that began Monday.
While most of these statements have been dismissed as rhetorical bluster, the latest threat to the border island of Baengnyeong, which has around 5,000 civilian residents, appears credible and carries the weight of precedent.
In 2010, the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan was sunk in the area of Baengnyeong with the loss of 46 lives, and later that year North Korea shelled the nearby island of Yeonpyeong, killing four people.
On a visit Monday to frontline artillery units, Kim Jong Un briefed officers on their mission “to strike and wipe out the enemies” on Baengnyeong and turn the island into a “sea of fire.”
“Once an order is issued, you should break the waists of the crazy enemies, totally cut their windpipes and thus clearly show them what a real war is like,” Kim was quoted as saying by the Korean Central News Agency.
An administrative official on Baengnyeong, Kim Young-gu, said civilian emergency shelters on the island had been fully stocked and all village councils put on high alert.
The crisis represents an early test for South Korea's new President Park Geun-hye, who was sworn in only two weeks ago, while analysts worry about just how far the inexperienced Kim Jong-Un is willing to go.
A domestic political row has hindered key appointments to Park's cabinet, and the nominee for the defense portfolio, Kim Byung-kwan, warned that delaying his confirmation posed enormous risks.
“I feel a tremendous sense of danger,” he told a televised press conference. “There should never be a slightest vacuum in national defense at any moment. And now is a perilous time.”
In a move likely to provoke a fresh round of furious rhetoric from Pyongyang, the United States on Monday slapped sanctions on North Korea's primary foreign exchange bank and four senior officials.
Past sanctions have failed to persuade Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program, but the international community hopes measures targeting financial lifelines can slow down the process and curb proliferation.
The U.S. measures come on top of financial sanctions imposed last week by the U.N. Security Council including China, North Korea's economic and diplomatic patron.