Tensions escalated in the Korean peninsula with the North Korea’s leader threatening to start a war against South Korea immediately even as the U.S. extended sanctions on North Korea in an attempt to impede the latter’s nuclear ambitions.
The North’s supreme leader, Kim Jong Un, who visited the troops stationed near disputed regions between the countries Monday told his artillery troops to be on “maximum alert” as the “war can break out right now," according to a report published in the North Korean state media, KCNA.
Apparently, Kim issued a detailed threat to “wipe out” a South Korean island, Baengnyeong, which is located south of the disputed waters between the nations, the AFP reported.
The North Korean media reported in detail Kim’s address to the troops, in which he briefed the troops on turning the island into a “sea of flames.”
"He told the commander to photograph enemy positions engulfed in flames during a battle and send pictures to the Supreme Command," KCNA said.
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"Once an order is issued, you should break the waists of the crazy enemies, totally cut their windpipes and thus clearly show them what a real war is like," Kim said.
The North, which is said to be furious over U.N. sanctions and the U.S.-South Korea joint military drills, has threatened to launch nuclear strikes against the U.S and its allies. What's more, Pyongyang has declared the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War “invalid" in response to the ongoing military drills, a report published in the national newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, stated on Monday.
Also, the North snapped the Red Cross hotline with South Korea and threatened to cut off another communication line with the U.N. base in South Korea.
Although most of the threats from the North are dismissed by political observers as typical war rhetoric , Kim’s latest threat to attack the island — which was subject to the North’s attacks in the past — has raised concern in the region.
The island has been put on high alert.
However, a spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the terms of the Korean War armistice "do not allow either side unilaterally to free themselves from it,'' the BBC reported.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland also questioned the legal authority of Pyongyang to unilaterally scrap the 1953 armistice pact and described the North’s threats as "bellicose rhetoric.”
The U.S. Treasury imposed fresh sanctions Monday against North Korea's Foreign Trade Bank (FTB), the country's main foreign exchange institution and on Paek Se-Bong, chairman of North Korea's Second Economic Committee, while the U.S. State Department slapped sanctions on three North Korean officials for their alleged activities supporting the North’s nuclear proliferation program.
“North Korea uses FTB to facilitate transactions on behalf of actors linked to its proliferation network, which is under increasing pressure from recent international sanctions. The United States will take strong measures to protect its financial system from this type of illicit activity, and we urge financial institutions around the world to be particularly wary of the risks of doing business with FTB,” Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen said in a press statement.
The U.S. Treasury Department said by designating FTB, it is targeting a key financial node in North Korea’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) apparatus, cutting it off from the U.S. financial system. FTB has also facilitated millions of dollars in transactions that have benefited Korea Mining Development Corporation (KOMID) -- North Korea’s premier arms dealer -- and its financial arm, Tanchon Commercial Bank (TCB), the statement added.
Paek Se-Bong is also designated by the U.S. Treasury department for his activities in aiding the North’s nuclear program.
In a separate statement, the U.S. Department of State said it is designating three individuals for sanctions, including: Pak To-Chun, head of the U.S. and European Union-designated Munitions Industry Department, which manages North Korea’s weapons production and arms exports; Chu Kyu-Chang, a KWP Political Bureau member who directs the Munitions Industry Department; and O Kuk-Ryol, a vice chairman of the North Korean National Defense Commission, for their direct ties to North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs.
The new U.S. sanctions comes days after the U.N. Security Council passed fresh sanctions against North Korea for conducting a third nuclear test in defiance to the U.N. regulations.
Taking serious note of the high-pitched, provocative rhetoric from North Korea, the U.S. said Pyongyang should mend its ways and respect its international obligations to enable the U.S. to start authentic negotiations with it.
In a speech, President Obama’s national security adviser, Tom Donilon, said that unless the DPRK “changes its course, the United States will continue to work with allies and partners to tighten national and international sanctions to impede North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs,” Voice of America reported.
"By now it is clear that the provocations, escalations and poor choices of North Korea’s leaders are not only making their country less secure -- they are condemning their people to a level of poverty that stands in stark contrast not only to South Korea, but every other country in East Asia,” Donilon added.