North Korea threatening a nuclear strike on South
Tensions on the Korean peninsula were at their most dangerous level since the 1950-53 war yesterday when North Korea threatened to use nuclear weapons in a “holy war” against its neighbour after South Korean tanks, jets and artillery carried out one of the largest live-fire drills in history close to the border.
The military exercise at Pocheon, just south of the demilitarised zone, was the third such show of force this week by South Korea.
Multiple rocket-launchers, dozens of tanks and hundreds of troops joined the drills, which the South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak, insisted were necessary for self-defence, following two deadly attacks this year.
Last month two civilians and two marines were killed by a North Korean barrage on Yeonpyeong island following a live-fire drill in disputed territory. In March 46 sailors died when the South Korean naval ship Cheonan was sunk, apparently by an enemy torpedo.
“We had believed patience would ensure peace on this land, but that was not the case,” Lee told troops yesterday. He earlier warned that he was ready to order a “merciless counterattack” if |further provoked.
North Korea's armed forces minister Kim Yong-chun also |lifted the pitch of the sabre-rattling. “To counter the enemy's |intentional drive to push the situation to the brink of war, our|revolutionary forces are making preparations to begin a holy war at any moment necessary based on nuclear deterrent,” North Korea's KCNA news agency quoted him telling a rally in |Pyongyang.
Efforts to defuse the crisis have not been helped by divisions among the other major players in the region. Russia has proposed sending a special United Nations envoy to the region and China has called for restraint and expressed support for a fresh round of six-party denuclearisation talks.
But Japan and the United States have backed the robust stance taken by Seoul, saying North Korea has not yet done enough to deserve new negotiations.
Last weekend the American ambassador to the United |Nations proposed a Security Council statement condemning Pyongyang, but it was blocked by China.
US diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks have revealed that senior Chinese foreign ministry |officials have privately expressed frustration with Pyongyang's |behaviour.
China is the main supplier of food and fuel to its isolated neighbour, but the extent of its influence over North Korea is unclear.
The topic will be discussed when US President Barack Obama meets his Chinese counterpart at a summit on January 19.