North Korea's military vowed today to launch unspecified "special actions" soon meant to reduce South Korea's conservative government and media companies "to ashes" in less that four minutes, in an escalation of its recent threats.
North Korea regularly criticises Seoul and just last week renewed its promise to wage a "sacred war," saying South Korean President Lee Myung-bak had insulted the North's April 15 celebrations of the birth centennial of national founder Kim Il Sung.
But today's military statement, which vowed actions of "unprecedented peculiar means," was unusual in promising something soon and describing a specific length of time.
The threat follows UN condemnation of North Korea's launch of a long-range rocket that exploded shortly after liftoff on April 13. Washington, Seoul and others called the launch a cover for testing long-range missile technology. Pyongyang said the launch was meant to put a satellite into orbit.
The North's special actions "will reduce all the rat-like groups and the bases for provocations to ashes in three or four minutes, (or) in much shorter time, by unprecedented peculiar means and methods of our own style," according to the statement by the special operation action group of the Korean People's Army's Supreme Command.
Some South Korean analysts speculated the North's statement was meant to unnerve Seoul; others that the North could be planning terrorist attacks.
It seemed unlikely that North Korea would launch a large-scale military attack against Seoul, which is backed by nearly 30,000 US troops stationed in the South, said Kim Young-soo, a professor at Sogang University in Seoul.
The North's latest threat, which was carried by its state media, comes amid rising tensions on the Korean peninsula, with both Koreas recently unveiling new missiles.
The animosity has prompted worries that North Korea may conduct a new nuclear test — something it did after rocket launches in 2006 and 2009. South Korean intelligence officials have said that recent satellite images show North Korea has been digging a new tunnel in what appears to be preparation for a third nuclear test.
South Korea's Unification Ministry said it was examining North Korea's intentions behind the statement; the Defence Ministry said no special military movement had been observed in the North.
Relations between the Koreas have been abysmal since Lee took office in 2008 with a hard-line policy that ended unconditional aid shipments to the North.
In Beijing, North Korea's biggest ally, China's top foreign policy official met yesterday with a North Korean delegation and expressed confidence in the country's new young leader, Kim Jong Un.