NKorea says ready to fight ‘holy war’ using nuclear deterrent
SEOUL: North Korea's minister of armed forces said on Thursday its military was prepared to wage a "holy war" against the South using its nuclear deterrent after what he called Seoul's attempt to initiate conflict.
Minister Kim Yong-chun repeated Pyongyang's charge that the South had been preparing to start a war by conducting live-fire drills off the west coast, speaking at a rally to mark leader Kim Jong-il's rise to the country's top military post 19 years ago.
He was quoted by North Korea's KCNA news agency which regularly threatens the South but which had up to now been relatively restrained in its criticism of the military drills.
Moreover, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said its military should launch a "merciless counterattack" if its territory is attacked again by North Korea, as Seoul's military held major land and sea exercis- es on Thursday.
"We had believed patience would ensure peace on this land, but that was not the case," Lee told troops at a forward army unit near the border.
South Korea held a major land drill in the Pocheon region, between Seoul and the heavily armed demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas. It also continued naval live-fire exercises 100 km (60 miles) south of the maritime border with North Korea. The drill, involving a larger scale of firepower and personnel than usual for an exercise at the army training ground, is an indication that Lee wants to show the public Seoul can stand up to the North. A large contingent of mechanized units operating tanks, three dozen self-propelled artillery, fighter jets and multiple rocket launchers, took part in the live-fire drill just miles from the border with the North.
About 800 local residents and children were invited to watch the drill from bleachers set up overlooking a wide valley where the troops aimed firearms.
Lee has replaced his top defense officials with more hawkish military men, a response to criticism of a perceived weak response to hostile acts from the North, including a submarine attack in March and the shelling of Yeonpyeong island last month.
"(South Korea) is trying to hide the provocative nature toward the North of the war exercises," Pyongyang's official KCNA news agency said in a comment, calling the drills "madcap" and "offensive" and referring to the South Korean military as "puppet warmongers," an insult it frequently deploys.
The South Korean Army is making no secret that the drill is aimed at displaying its firepower to its neighbor.
"We are facing a crisis because of North Korea, so I came to see this air and ground operation. I want to feel and see the level of South Korea's armed forces," said Kim Taedong, a 70-year-old internet businessman, in Pocheon.
"Another North Korean provocation will happen. We should prepare our military perfectly for that."
Seoul's financial markets closed flat, with investors shrugging off the tensions. Pyongyang's threatening remarks have in the past failed to have a lasting effect.
The North's reaction was relatively calm in comparison with its threats of a retaliatory strike made as recently as last week, before Monday's live-firing drill on Yeonpyeong, which lies in disputed waters off the west coast of the peninsula.
Its official Rodong Sinmun newspaper accused the United States of conspiring with the South and Japan to bring war to the Korean peninsula. -Ap