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N. Korea threatens foreign warships

THE Democratic People's Republic of Korea threatened military action yesterday against US and Republic of Korea warships plying the waters near the Koreas' disputed maritime border, raising the specter of a naval clash just days after the DPRK's underground nuclear test.

Pyongyang, reacting angrily to Seoul's decision to join an international program to intercept ships suspected of aiding nuclear proliferation, called the move tantamount to a declaration of war.

"Now that the South Korean puppets were so ridiculous as to join in the said racket and dare declare a war against compatriots," North Korea is "compelled to take a decisive measure," the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a statement carried by DPRK's state media.

Seoul's decision comes at a time when "the state of military confrontation is growing acute and there is constant danger of military conflict," the statement warned.

South Korea's military said yesterday it was prepared to "respond sternly" to any North Korean provocation.

The DPRK's latest threats come as the UN Security Council debates how to punish the country for testing a nuclear bomb on Monday.

Ambassadors from the five permanent veto-wielding council members - the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France - as well as Japan and South Korea were working out the details of a new resolution.

South Korea has responded to the nuclear test by joining the Proliferation Security Initiative, a US-led network of nations seeking to stop ships from transporting the materials used in nuclear bombs.

South Korea previously resisted joining the PSI in favor of seeking reconciliation with North Korea but pushed those efforts aside on Monday after the nuclear test in the northeast.

North Korea warned yesterday that any attempt to stop, board or inspect its ships would constitute a "grave violation."

The country also said it could no longer promise the safety of US and South Korean warships and civilian vessels in the waters near the Koreas' western maritime border.

"They should bear in mind that the (North) has tremendous military muscle and its own method of strike able to conquer any targets in its vicinity at one stroke or hit the US on the raw, if necessary," it said.

The maritime border has long been a flashpoint between the two Koreas. North Korea disputes the line unilaterally drawn by the United Nations at the end of the three-year Korean War in 1953 and has demanded it be redrawn further south.

The truce signed in 1953 and subsequent military agreements call for both sides to refrain from warfare, but it doesn't cover the waters off the west coast.

Yesterday, North Korea promised "unimaginable and merciless punishment" for anyone daring to challenge its ships.

Pyongyang also reportedly restarted its nuclear plant, South Korean media said. The Chosun Ilbo newspaper said US spy satellites detected signs of steam at North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear complex, an indication it may have started reprocessing nuclear fuel.


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