Mon, Jan 19, 2009 - Page 4 News List

S Korean military on alert after N Korean statement

TACTIC Some Korean experts say the strong message from the North was likely aimed at Washington ahead of US president-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration

AP , SEOUL

South Korea said its military remained on alert yesterday a day after North Korea pledged “an all-out confrontational posture” in response to Seoul’s hardline stance against its communist regime.

The Korean People’s Army called the South Korean president a “traitor” and accused him of preparing a military provocation, a statement carried on Saturday by the state-run Korean Central News Agency said.

Pyongyang also warned of a “strong military retaliatory step” and South Korea immediately put its forces on alert.

A South Korean Defense Ministry official said yesterday the military would remain on alert, though there were no unusual moves by North Korean forces.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity citing department policy.

North Korea has issued similar threats in the past in anger over hardline policies implemented by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak since taking office.

South Korea denies taking a confrontational stance and has repeatedly called for dialogue with Pyongyang.

Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Seoul’s Dongguk University, said North Korea’s saber-rattling could be a negotiating tactic aimed at Seoul and Washington ahead of the Tuesday inauguration of US president-elect Barack Obama.

South Korea, the US and three other nations have sought to coax North Korea — which detonated an atomic device in 2006 — to give up its nuclear program by offering aid for disarmament. The pact has been deadlocked over how to verify North Korea’s past nuclear activities.

A US nuclear expert said on Saturday following a trip to the North that Pyongyang told him it has “weaponized” 30kg of plutonium into warheads.

That much plutonium would produce four to five warheads, depending on the grade of plutonium, the specific weapon’s design, and the desired explosive yield, said Selig Harrison, director of the Washington-based Center for International Policy’s Asia program.

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