North Korea 'on full combat readiness'

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The Independent Online

North Korea today said it had put its armed forces on full combat readiness in response to the start of annual military exercises by US and South Korean troops, raising tension on the divided peninsula.

In a statement read on state television, a fierce-voiced military official also warned that any attempt to shoot down the long-range missile the reclusive state plans to launch soon would be seen as an act of war.



Pyongyang routinely accuses the United States and South Korea of aggressive intentions with the exercises, but the rhetoric this time has been more strident.



It called the drills a provocation that would only occur "on the eve of a war", and threatened to cut off its hotline with the South's military - the one telephone link between the two armies who are massed either side of the border that has divided them for more than half a century.



US marines will conduct live-fire drills north of Seoul and within an hour's drive from the border. A US aircraft carrier will take part in the exercises, the US military said.



The drills come as Pyongyang prepares to test-fire its Taepodong-2 missile and at a time of speculation about the health of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.



Pyongyang says the launch would be for a satellite as part of its communications development, though under UN sanctions it is barred from firing a ballistic missile.



"Shooting our satellite for peaceful purposes will precisely mean a war," a spokesman for the Korean People's Army said on North Korea's one television channel.



Media reports last week speculated that Japan and the United States might intercept any ballistic missile launched by the North, though neither has said publicly it would.



Both countries, and South Korea, have said they see no difference between a satellite and a missile launch because they use the same technology and the same rocket.

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