Pyongyang warns Seoul of `disaster'

Korean stand-off: Border quiet after Northern threats, which may improve Kim's election chances
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The Independent Online
North Korea yesterday accused the South of preparing to wage war against it and warned of "irrevocable disaster" as a consequence. But after a tense weekend during which hundreds of North Korean troops entered the border area on three successive nights, there were no more incidents, and the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) between the two enemies was quiet last night.

"The Korean peninsula is in the worst situation due to the dangerous military activities of South Korea that can be seen on the eve of war," said the Korean Central News Agency, quoting an article in Rodong Shinmun, official organ of the North Korean Workers' Party. "The South Korean puppets must know that if they regard the North's warning as empty talk and display war hysterics, they will face an irrevocable disaster. It goes without saying that their reckless war preparations are manipulated by the bellicose quarters of the United States."

Meanwhile, South Korea said it would shoot any North Korean troops crossing into the Demilitarised Zone. In the past, North Koreans have been given a chance to retreat before being shot at.

In Seoul yesterday the South Korean president, Kim Young Sam, conferred with his defence minister and generals on the latest incident on Sunday night, when truckloads of soldiers of the Korean People's Army (KPA) carried out exercises at Panmunjom, the only crossing point on the 150-mile-long DMZ.

The incursions began on Friday, the day after Pyongyang announced that it would no longer maintain its obligations in the DMZ, which has divided the two Koreas since an armistice ended the Korean War in 1953.

President Kim was quoted as saying "South Korea will not tolerate North Korea's continued threats of reckless provocations." A foreign ministry spokesman said that it had called on 30 countries, including the United States, China, Russia and Japan, to demand that Pyongyang honour its armistice obligations.

A spokesman for the Russian foreign ministry, once one of the North's closest allies, called for "restraint above all from Pyongyang. . . The main thing is to stick to the armistice accord and not violate it before a new mechanism is worked out."

The commander of the 37,000 US forces in the South, General Gary Luck, met his Korean counterpart yesterday, but the United Nations, which supervises the armistice, continued to play down the seriousness of the incidents. Coachloads of tourists from the South who visit the border in their hundreds to peer into the North were still being admitted to Panmunjom.

"These are illegal training events," a UN command spokesman said. "The rest of the DMZ is quiet - the same tense, dirty, nasty place it always is." In Washington, the State Department said there was nothing to indicate "an offensive build-up".

Pyongyang's strategy appears to be aimed at pressuring the US into concluding a separate peace treaty with the North, excluding Seoul. But it is complicated by elections to be held on Thursday to the South Korean National Assembly. Until last week, President Kim's New Korea Party (NKP) had been trailing badly and was expected to lose its majority.

The timing of the scare suggests it was intended to undermine the NKP's campaign but its effect may turn out to be the opposite. Mr Kim's statesmanlike response may even tip the balance in his party's favour and the NKP estimates it could boost its share of the poll by as much as 4 per cent. A cartoon in the Munwha Ilbo yesterday depicted merry North Korean troops as NKP campaign workers, while opposition leaders looked on from the sidelines, quaking with frustration.

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