North Korea issued new threats against South Korea yesterday, vowing “sledgehammer blows” of retaliation if the South did not apologize for anti-North Korean protests the previous day when the North was celebrating the birth of its founding leader.
On Monday, the North dropped its shrill threats of war against the US and South Korea as it celebrated the 101st anniversary of the birth of its first leader, Kim Il-sung, raising hopes for an easing of tension in a region that has for weeks seemed on the verge of conflict.
The hint of a scaling back of the confrontation followed offers of talks with the North from both the US and the South.
However, the North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) yesterday said the North Korean army had issued an ultimatum to the South after rallies in the South on Monday at which portraits of North Korea’s leaders were burned.
“Our retaliatory action will start without any notice from now,” KCNA reported, citing military leaders of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), as the North is officially known.
“The military demonstration of the DPRK’s revolutionary armed forces will be powerful sledge-hammer blows at all hostile forces hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership,” it said.
South Korean media reported several small demonstrations in Seoul on Monday. One TV station showed pictures of a handful of protesters burning a portrait of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Small counter-protests calling for dialogue with the North were also held.
The North has threatened nuclear attacks on the US, South Korea and Japan after new UN sanctions were imposed in response to its latest nuclear arms test in February.
However, KCNA did not threaten the US yesterday, reserving its anger for what it calls South Korea’s “puppet” government.
It even mentioned the possibility of dialogue, suggesting that it was not really about to launch war in response to routine protests by at most a few dozen people in Seoul, despite the anger they raised.
“If the puppet authorities truly want dialogue and negotiations, they should apologize for all anti-DPRK hostile acts, big and small, and show the compatriots their will to stop all these acts,” KCNA cited the North’s military as saying.
A South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman later told a briefing the North’s ultimatum was not worth a response.
In other developments, a US military helicopter crashed in a region near the border with North Korea yesterday with 14 people on board, all of them US soldiers, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said.
There were no reports of injuries and the cause of the accident is under investigation, Yonhap said.