N. Korea threatens to abandon armistice - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

N. Korea threatens to abandon armistice

(Seoul, South Korea-AP) Feb. 18, 2003 - North Korea upped the stakes in the confrontation over its nuclear weapons program Tuesday, threatening to withdraw from the armistice that keeps peace along its heavily fortified border with South Korea and accusing the United States of plotting an attack.

The North has made similar threats in the past and the announcement was considered largely symbolic. Still, any change in the armistice agreement — the only legal instrument keeping the peninsula from war — could greatly increase tensions on the border.

"At a time when the situation on the Korean Peninsula is getting extremely tense due to the U.S. nuclear racket, the U.S. side is contemplating the additional deployment of huge forces ... in and around the Korean Peninsula," a North Korean army spokesman said.

North Korea "will be left with no option but to take a decisive step to abandon its commitment to implement the armistice agreement ... and free itself from the binding force of all its provisions," said the unidentified spokesman, quoted by the North's state-run KCNA news agency.

Despite the statement, South Korean and U.S. officials saw no immediate indication North Korea planned to launch a major attack across the border. Armed forces of the two Koreas were in the middle of their annual winter training.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the threat is part of a series of statements from Pyongyang, "all of which only serve to hurt, isolate and move North Korea backward." He said the nuclear standoff remains a matter for the international community.

A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis, said The United States "will not respond to threats, broken commitments or blackmail" and is seeking a peaceful resolution to the standoff.

"Any further escalation by North Korea of the situation on the peninsula will bring international condemnation and further self-isolation," Davis said.

The United States has said repeatedly that it has no intention of taking military action against the North, which Washington accuses of developing nuclear weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently found Pyongyang in breach of its commitments on nuclear programs and referred the matter to the U.N. Security Council.

The 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, leaving the peninsula still technically in a state of war. The frontier is the world's most heavily armed with most of the nearly 2 million troops deployed near the border. The United States has 37,000 Americans stationed in the South.

The threat was the latest North Korean move in an international dispute over its nuclear program.

Recent decisions by North Korea to restart its nuclear facilities and withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty have been widely viewed as attempts to increase tension and pressure Washington into direct negotiations on a nonaggression pact. The North is also desperate for food and energy aid.

Maj. Ha Ju-yeon, a spokesman at the South Korean Defense Ministry, said there were no unusual movements by North Korean troops on Tuesday along the 150-mile border.

The winter training for both Korean militaries began in December. But North Korea suffers acute fuel shortages, and its military's winter maneuverings have been less vigorous in recent years, Ha said.

Kim called for direct dialogue between the United States and North Korea, saying such talks were crucial to international efforts to bring a diplomatic end to the dispute.

The U.S. military announced Monday that it would conduct two joint exercises with South Korea next month, although it said the annual maneuvers are not related to the nuclear dispute.

The North Korean threat was issued Monday by the spokesman of the North Korean military's mission to Panmunjom, a truce village where the American-led U.N. Command and the North Korean military meet to oversee the armistice. KCNA released the statement Tuesday.

The U.N. Command, which supervises the southern half of the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas, had no immediate comment on the North Korean statement.

The nuclear standoff began in October when U.S. officials said North Korea admitted having a covert nuclear program. Washington and its allies suspended fuel shipments, and the North retaliated by expelling U.N. monitors, taking steps to restart frozen nuclear facilities and withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

updated 3:34pm by Chris Rees

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