South Korean and US troops go on higher alert amid Pyongyang’s threats of ‘a powerful strike’ and growing fears of a full-scale war in the peninsula.
“As of 7:15 am Thursday (2215 GMT Wednesday), the US-South Korea Combined Forces Command upgraded Watch Conditions by a notch to Stage Two,” Seoul’s Defense Ministry said in a statement released on Thursday.
“Surveillance over the North will be stepped up, with more aircraft and personnel mobilized,” AFP quoted spokesman Won Tae-Jae as saying.
The remarks come in response to North Korea’s Wednesday announcement, saying it was withdrawing from the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.
The North also warned that it could launch a military offensive on the South as it faced further pressure over test-firing an atomic bomb for the second time on Monday.
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Following the test fire, Seoul said it planned to join the US-led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), which is aimed at halting shipments of weapons technology.
The decision enraged the North which said it would respond to “any tiny hostile actsâ€¦, including the stopping and searching of our peaceful vessels,” with a strong military strike.
Responding to the threats, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned North Korea against “provocative and belligerent” and highlighted the US firm commitment to the armistice and defending South Korea and Japan — both in easy range of North Korean missiles.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Pyongyang’s angry rhetoric will only aggravate its isolation, and that the peace has held despite the North’s repeated threats to end the truce.
Nearly 28,500 US troops remain stationed in South Korea in what Washington calls a deterrent force against Pyongyang.
Won said the surveillance step-up — the fourth since 1982 — to stage two would be focused along the borderline Demilitarized Zone, the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom village and the disputed Yellow Sea border of Northern Limit Line.
He added the tight defense measure was aimed at preventing the North’s military provocations, vowing “the military will deal sternly with provocative acts.”