North Korea's army warned the US yesterday that any US-led naval or aerial blockade or sanctions against Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program would be met with "merciless retaliatory measures."
The (North) Korean People's Army (KPA) representative at the Panmunjom truce village on the border with South Korea accused the US of planning both a pre-emptive attack and a blockade against the isolated and impoverished communist state.
"A touch-and-go situation is now prevailing on the Korean Peninsula owing to the US undisguised policy to stifle the DPRK. Korea is at the crossroads of war or peace," said the statement, issued in English by the North's KCNA news agency.
The KPA official said North Korea's million-strong army would retaliate "if the US side applies sanctions against the DPRK and conducts sea and air blockade against it anywhere and starts bolstering up troops in and around the Korean Peninsula."
DPRK is the acronym of the North's official title, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The North is technically at war with South Korea because the 1953 armistice which halted the Korean War has never been turned into a peace treaty.
North Korea is locked in a showdown with the US and its allies, including Japan and South Korea, over Pyongyang's efforts to build atomic bombs. The crisis erupted last October, when US officials said North Korea had said it had a covert nuclear arms program.
Washington has stepped up diplomatic pressure on North Korea to dismantle its weapons programs, and last week unveiled a plan to to halt transfers of weapons of mass destruction by North Korea, as well as Iran.
But the US has not gone as far as seeking sanctions or any blockade against North Korea, steps Pyongyang has long said it would view as acts of war.
A spokesman for the US-led United Nations Command at Panmunjom said no message had been received yet from the KPA at the border contact point.
On Monday, North Korea opened its border near Panmunjom briefly to allow a ground-breaking ceremony for a South Korean industrial park. President Roh Moo-hyun told dinner guests the worst of the crisis "has been overcome."
Asked to explain the comments, presidential spokesman Yoon Tae-young told reporters yesterday Roh's remarks "signify progress in the overall situation compared to the early stages, when we faced possible use of force."
But yesterday's statement by the KPA repeated Pyongyang's previous view Washington was setting the stage for a pre-emptive strike with its plan to transfer US troops away from the North-South frontier.