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N. Korea threatens nuclear response

THE Democratic People's Republic of Korea said yesterday it would use nuclear weapons in a "merciless offensive" if provoked - its latest threat apparently aimed at deterring any international punishment for its recent atomic test blast.

The tensions arising from the DPRK are beginning to hit nascent business ties with the Republic of Korea. A Seoul-based fur manufacturer became the first South Korean company to announce on Monday it was pulling out of an industrial complex in the North Korean border town of Kaesong.

The complex, which opened in 2004, is a key symbol of rapprochement between the two Koreas, but the goodwill is evaporating quickly in the wake of North Korea's nuclear test on May 25 and subsequent missile tests.

North Korea raised tensions a notch by reviving its warning in a commentary in the state-run Minju Joson newspaper yesterday.

"Our nuclear deterrent will be a strong defensive means ... as well as a merciless offensive means to deal a just retaliatory strike to those who touch the country's dignity and sovereignty even a bit," said the commentary, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

It appeared to be the first time that North Korea referred to its nuclear arsenal as "offensive" in nature. The country has long claimed that its nuclear weapons program is a deterrent and only for self-defense against what it calls US attempts to invade it.

The tough talk came as South Korea and the US lead an effort at the UN Security Council to have the DPRK punished for its nuclear test with tough sanctions.

Seoul's Yonhap news agency reported yesterday that South Korea had doubled the number of naval ships around the disputed sea border with the North amid concern the neighbor could provoke an armed clash there - the scene of skirmishes in 1999 and 2002.

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff declined to confirm the report, but said North Korea has not shown any unusual military moves.

Relations between the two Koreas have worsened since a pro-US government took office in Seoul last year, advocating a tougher policy on the DPRK. Since then, reconciliation talks have been cut off and all key joint projects except the factory park in Kaesong have been suspended.

Some 40,000 North Koreans are employed at the zone, making everything from electronics and watches to shoes and utensils. The park combines South Korean technology and management expertise with cheap labor from North Korea.

A total of 106 South Korean companies operate in the park. That number will go down by the end of the month when Skinnet, the fur maker, completes its pullout.

A Skinnet official said that the decision was made primarily as a result of "security concerns" for its employees and also because of a decline in orders from clients concerned over possible disruptions to operations amid the soaring tensions.

The industrial park's fate has been in doubt since last month when North Korea threatened to scrap all contracts on running the joint complex and said it would write new rules of its own and that South Korea must accept them or pull out of the zone.


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