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  • 3 weeks later...

North Korea puts rocket units on alert to 'attack US'

 

[ame=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zr_05TGGlHk]North Korea military on 'highest alert' - YouTube[/ame]

 

North Korea puts rocket units on alert to 'attack US'

 

North Korea has elevated its artillery and strategic missile forces to "combat-ready posture" and said it is prepared to strike targets in South Korea, Japan, Guam, Hawaii and the continental US.

 

The announcement, carried by the KCNA state media, was in the name of the Supreme Command, which has attracted attention in South Korea because it is an emergency division of the government that is only operational during time of war.

 

In the announcement, North Korea said it would "show off our army and people's stern reaction to safeguard our sovereignty and the highest dignity through military actions."

 

The comments come a day after Kim Jong-un was again pictured visiting military units, watching exercises on the east coast involving troops storming ashore from hovercraft and artillery shelling targets.

 

The media mouthpiece for the regime said North Korea can no longer overlook Washington's nuclear and military threats. The US and South Korea recently conducted military exercises involving a nuclear submarine and B52 bombers flying out of air bases on Guam.

 

"The US nuclear war racket has gone beyond the danger line and entered the phase of an actual war, defying the repeated warnings from the army and people of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea," the statement said.

 

South Korea was on the receiving end of another bout of threats, which have become more frequent and more vitriolic since the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to step up sanctions against Pyongyang for carrying out a nuclear test in February.

 

The KCNA report warned that the government in Seoul, "Should be mindful that everything will be reduced to ashes and flames the moment the first attack is unleashed."

 

Despite the threats, North Korea does not have the capability to carry out its latest threat, according to experts.

 

James Hardy, Asia Pacific Editor from IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, said: “From what we know of its existing inventory, North Korea has short and medium range missiles that could complicate a situation on the Korean Peninsula (and perhaps reach Japan), but we have not seen any evidence that it has long-range missiles that could strike the continental US, Guam or Hawaii.”

 

Pyongyang's latest threats were issued on the day that South Korea marked the third anniverasry of the sinking of the corvette Cheonan in a torpedo attack blamed on the North.

 

Memorial ceremonies were held across the country for the 46 South Korean sailors killed when the warship exploded and sank in the Yellow Sea. North Korea maintains that it had nothing to do with the incident.

 

Park Guen-hye, the South Korean president, urged Pyongyang to halt its provocations at a speech at the national cemetery in the city of Daejeon marking the anniversary.

 

"As we mark the third anniversary of the Cheonan, I strongly urge North Korea to change," Park said.

 

"North Korea must immediately abandon its thoughts that nuclear weapons will protect its regime," she said. "The only way North Korea will survive is if it voluntarily lays down its nuclear weapons, missiles, provocations and threats, and transforms into a responsible member of the international community."

 

Kim Kwan-jin, the hard-line defence minister, was less conciliatory towards the North, ordering the South Korean military to remain at the highest level of alert and be ready to retaliate in the event of a provocation.

 

Hugo Swire, the foreign office minister, told The Daily Telegraph in Beijing that the regime in Pyongyang remains "very unpredictable" and the hope remains that Beijing might be able to intervene to reign in its neighbour.

 

"The Chinese are critical in our engagement with North Korea," he said. "They share our frustration about the latest violations. They recognise it is destabilising the region. They are fed up with Pyongyang and will now be as active as they can be to show them this cannot continue."

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/northkorea/9953874/North-Korea-puts-rocket-units-on-alert-to-attack-US.html

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North Korea 'readies rocket force' after US stealth flights

 

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North Korea 'readies rocket force' after US stealth flights

 

North Korea says it has put missile units on stand-by to attack US targets in response to US stealth bomber flights over the Korean peninsula.

 

State news agency KCNA said leader Kim Jong-un signed off on the order at a late-night meeting of top generals.

 

The time had come to "settle accounts" with the US, KCNA quoted him as saying, with the B-2 flights an "ultimatum".

 

Pyongyang has been angered by fresh UN sanctions and annual US-South Korea military drills.

 

Russia said it was concerned by "unilateral action being taken around North Korea" and warned against the situation slipping out of control.

 

China, North Korea's biggest trading partner, has called on all sides to ease tensions.

 

Kim Jong-un "finally signed the plan on technical preparations of strategic rockets of the KPA, ordering them to be stand-by for fire so that they may strike any time", the KCNA report said.

 

"If they make a reckless provocation with huge strategic forces, the Korean People's Army (KPA) should mercilessly strike the US mainland, their stronghold, their military bases in the operational theatres in the Pacific, including Hawaii and Guam, and those in South Korea," the agency quoted him as saying.

 

Thousands of North Koreans later took part in a march in Pyongyang in support of Kim Jong-un's announcement, the Associated Press news agency reported.

 

A Yonhap news agency report citing an unidentified military official said increased activity had been noted at North Korea's missile sites, but this remains unconfirmed.

 

The US - which flew two stealth bombers over the peninsula on Thursday as part of the ongoing military drills - has said it is ready for "any eventuality" on the peninsula.

 

In a statement, it said that the B-2 planes demonstrated America's ability to "provide extended deterrence" to its allies and conduct "long-range, precision strikes quickly and at will".

 

"The North Koreans have to understand that what they're doing is very dangerous," US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters on Thursday. "We must make clear that these provocations by the North are taken by us very seriously and we'll respond to that."

 

The US flew nuclear-capable B-52 bombers over South Korea earlier this month, in what it called a response to escalating North Korean threats.

 

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei reiterated a call for calm on all sides.

 

He told a daily news briefing that "joint efforts" should be made to turn around a "tense situation". He made similar remarks on Tuesday.

 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov condemned Pyongyang's actions as "unacceptable", Interfax news agency said.

 

He later told reporters that Moscow was concerned that "alongside an adequate reaction from the [uN] Security Council... there are unilateral steps being taken around North Korea".

 

"We may simply let the situation slip out of our control and it will slide into a vicious spiral."

 

Tensions in the Korean peninsula are high following North Korea's third nuclear test on 12 February, which led to the imposition of a fresh raft of sanctions.

 

North Korea has made multiple threats against both the US and South Korea in recent weeks, including warning of a "pre-emptive nuclear strike" on the US and the scrapping of the Korean War armistice.

 

North Korea is not thought to have the technology to strike the US mainland with either a nuclear weapon or a ballistic missile, but it is capable of targeting some US military bases in Asia with its mid-range missiles.

 

While North Korea has issued many threats against the US and South Korea in the past, this level of sustained rhetoric is rare, observers say.

 

On 16 March, North Korea warned of attacks against South Korea's border islands, and advised residents to leave the islands. In 2010 it shelled South Korea's Yeonpyeong island, causing four deaths.

 

On Wednesday, Pyongyang also cut a military hotline with the South - the last direct official link between the two nations.

 

A Red Cross hotline and another line used to communicate with the UN Command at Panmunjom have already been cut, although an inter-Korean air-traffic hotline still exists.

 

The jointly-run Kaesong industrial park is still in operation, however, and over 160 South Korean commuters entered North Korea yesterday to work in its factories.

 

The complex employs an estimated 50,000 North Korean workers and is a source of badly-needed hard currency for the North.

 

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-21972936

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North Korea enters 'state of war' with South

 

North Korea has said it is entering a "state of war" with South Korea in its latest escalation of rhetoric against its neighbour and the US.

 

A statement promised "stern physical actions" against "any provocative act".

 

North Korea has threatened attacks almost daily after it was sanctioned for a third nuclear test in February.

 

However, few think the North would risk full-blown conflict, and the two sides have technically been at war since 1953 as no peace treaty has been signed.

 

An armistice at the end of the Korean War was never turned into a full treaty. The North carried out its third nuclear test on 12 February, which led to the imposition of fresh sanctions.

 

The annual US-South Korean military exercises have also taken place, angering Pyongyang further.

 

Many analysts believe that all-out war with South Korea and its ally the United States would be suicidal for the North, says the BBC's Lucy Williamson in Seoul.

 

But with both sides threatening heavy retaliation, there's a chance of minor incidents escalating, our correspondent adds.

 

A North Korean statement released on Saturday said: "From this time on, the North-South relations will be entering the state of war and all issues raised between the North and the South will be handled accordingly.

 

"The long-standing situation of the Korean peninsula being neither at peace nor at war is finally over."

 

In Washington, Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said the US had "seen reports of a new and unconstructive statement from North Korea".

 

"We take these threats seriously and remain in close contact with our South Korean allies," she said.

 

North Korea has made multiple threats against both the US and South Korea in recent weeks, including warning of a "pre-emptive nuclear strike" on the US and the scrapping of the Korean War armistice.

 

On Thursday, North Korean state media reported leader Kim Jong-un "judged the time has come to settle accounts with the US imperialists".

 

He was said to have condemned US B-2 bomber sorties over South Korea during military exercises as a "reckless phase" that represented an "ultimatum that they will ignite a nuclear war at any cost on the Korean peninsula".

 

US mainland and bases in Hawaii, Guam and South Korea were all named as potential targets.

 

State media in the North showed thousands of soldiers and students at a mass rally in Pyongyang supporting Kim Jong-un's announcement

 

North Korea's most advanced missiles are thought to be able to reach Alaska, but not the rest of the US mainland. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the rhetoric only deepened North Korea's isolation.

 

China, North Korea's biggest trading partner, has reiterated its call for all sides to ease tensions. Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily news conference that "joint efforts" should be made to turn around a "tense situation".

 

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov went further, voicing concern that "we may simply let the situation slip out of our control".

 

"We are concerned that... unilateral action is being taken around North Korea that is increasing military activity," he said.

 

On 16 March, North Korea warned of attacks against South Korea's border islands, and advised residents to leave the islands.

 

In 2010, it shelled South Korea's Yeonpyeong island, causing four deaths.

 

On Wednesday, Pyongyang also cut a military hotline with the South - the last direct official link between the two nations.

 

A Red Cross hotline and another line used to communicate with the UN Command at Panmunjom have already been cut, although an inter-Korean air-traffic hotline still exists.

 

The jointly run Kaesong industrial park is still in operation.

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-21979127

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[ame=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V34tkeCiHBI]The Korean crisis - in 90 seconds - YouTube[/ame]

 

US to move missiles to Guam after North Korea threats

 

The US is moving an advanced missile system to the Pacific island of Guam as a precaution following threats by North Korea, the Pentagon has said.

 

The Department of Defence said it would deploy the ballistic Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System (Thaad) in the coming weeks. Pyongyang has threatened to target South Korea and the US in recent weeks.

 

The state's warlike rhetoric follows new UN sanctions and joint military drills by the US and South Korea. The Thaad system includes a truck-mounted launcher, interceptor missiles, and AN/TPY-2 tracking radar, together with an integrated fire control system.

 

The Pentagon said in a statement the missile system would be moved to Guam as a "precautionary move to strengthen our regional defence posture against the North Korean regional ballistic missile threat".

 

"The United States remains vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations and stands ready to defend US territory, our allies, and our national interests," the statement added. In recent weeks, North Korea has mentioned military bases in the US territory of Guam and the US state of Hawaii as possible targets.

 

"Some of the actions they've taken over the last few weeks, present a real and clear danger," said US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, in his first major speech on Wednesday since taking up his post. He added that Pyongyang had also threatened the interests of South Korea and Japan. The North has apparently been angered by UN sanctions imposed after a recent nuclear test. Pyongyang has escalated its warlike rhetoric amid the current round of US-South Korea military drills.

 

The US has recently made a series of high-profile flights of stealth fighters and nuclear-capable B-52 bombers over South Korea. Officials have also confirmed that the USS John McCain, an Aegis-class destroyer capable of intercepting missiles, has been positioned off the Korean peninsula.

 

A second destroyer, the USS Decatur, has been sent to the region. On Tuesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry called recent North Korean actions "dangerous" and "reckless".

 

China, the North's only powerful ally, said it had despatched officials on Tuesday to hold talks with ambassadors from North Korea, South Korea and the US. The Pentagon's announcement comes hours after North Korea closed a border crossing that allowed South Koreans to work at a jointly run industrial park - the first time such action has been taken since 2009.

 

The border into the Kaesong industrial zone is the last functioning crossing between the two Koreas, and the complex is the last significant symbol of co-operation.

 

Kaesong is a key revenue source for North Korea. It has not indicated how long the entry ban will last.

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-22021832

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I know its fox news... but I hope its true. Its only the chinese that can sort this one out as far as I am concerned. We could be all very fecked this time next week !

 

 

 

US officials say military buildup in China related to N. Korea tensions, tanks spotted

Published April 03, 2013

Washington Free Beacon

 

China continued moving tanks and armored vehicles and flying flights near North Korea this week as part of a military buildup in the northeastern part of the country that U.S. officials say is related to the crisis with North Korea.

 

The Obama administration, meanwhile, sought to play down the Chinese military buildup along the border with Beijing's fraternal communist ally despite the growing danger of conflict following unprecedented threats by Pyongyang to attack the United States and South Korea with nuclear weapons.

 

According to U.S. officials with access to intelligence reports, both intelligence and Internet reports from the region over the past week revealed the modest military movements in the border region that began in mid-March and are continuing.

 

The buildup appears linked to North Korea's March 30 announcement that it is in a "state of war" with South Korea after the United Nations imposed a new round of sanctions following the North's Feb. 12 nuclear test and because of ongoing large-scale joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises.

 

The People's Liberation Army (PLA) troop and tank movements were reported in Daqing, located in northeastern Heilongjiang Province, and in the border city of Shenyang, in Liaoning Province.

 

Officials said one key military unit involved in the mobilization is the 190th Mechanized Infantry Brigade based in Benxi, Liaoning Province. The brigade is believed to be the PLA's frontline combat unit that would respond to any regional conflict or refugee flows. Troops and tank movements also were reported in Dandong, in Liaoning Province.

 

 

 

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/04/03/us-officials-say-military-buildup-in-china-related-to-n-korea-tensions-tanks/#ixzz2PSUr8tfS

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North Korea actually surprises me. I thought already a week ago that they wouldn't find any ways of upping their rhetoric and threats every day, but still they do.

 

Mister Kim-Jong Un looked so comic at first, with tumblr blogs devoted to "Kim Jong Un looking at things" etc...

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5 April 2013 Last updated at 14:05 GMT .......Come on China its time to walk into Pyongyang and take over the gaff... Now..

 

South Korea 'deploys warships to track North missiles'

 

A The BBC's Lucy Williamson in Seoul: "North Korea is unpredictable and the stakes are very high”

 

 

 

 

 

 

South Korea has deployed two warships with missile-defence systems, reports say, a day after the North apparently moved a missile to its east coast.

 

Military officials told South Korean media the two warships would be deployed on the east and west coasts.

 

Seoul has played down the North's missile move, saying it may be for a test rather than a hostile act.

 

Separately, Pyongyang told foreign embassies it could not guarantee their safety in the event of conflict.

 

British diplomats said on Friday the North had asked them to respond by 10 April on what support the embassy would need in the event of any evacuation.

 

But anecdotal reports from inside the capital, Pyongyang, say the mood there is calm, and many believe North Korea is deliberately trying to create a sense of crisis, says the BBC's Lucy Williamson in Seoul.

 

In recent weeks, the North has ramped up its rhetoric and made specific threats to target US territory.

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[ame=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TkFl67Mtec8]North Korea Warns Foreign Embassies Of Risks - YouTube[/ame]

 

North Korea warns foreign embassies to prepare escape

 

North Korea has told foreign embassies in Pyongyang it cannot guarantee their safety in the event of conflict, and to consider evacuating their employees.

 

Both Russia and the UK said they had no immediate plans to evacuate their embassies in the North Korean capital.

 

The North's move comes amid threats to attack US and South Korean targets.

 

South Korea has reportedly deployed two warships with missile defence systems after the North was said to have moved a missile to its east coast.

 

Military officials told South Korean media the two warships would be deployed on the east and west coasts.

 

Seoul has played down the North's missile move: It said the move may be for a test rather than a hostile act.

 

For its part, the US said it would not be surprised if North Korea were to conduct a new missile test, with White House spokesman Jay Carney telling reporters: "We have seen them launch missiles in the past."

 

British diplomats said on Friday the North had asked them to respond by 10 April on what support the embassy would need in the event of any evacuation - and they were considering their moves. "We are consulting international partners about these developments," said a Foreign and Commonwealth Office statement. "No decisions have been taken, and we have no immediate plans to withdraw our Embassy."

 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was "deeply concerned about the escalation of tension, which for now is verbal".

 

"We want to understand the reasons behind this offer," he said. "We were interested in finding out whether this was a decision taken by the North Korean leadership to evacuate embassies, or just an offer."

 

Anecdotal reports from Pyongyang suggest the mood there is calm, and many believe North Korea is deliberately trying to create a sense of crisis, says the BBC's Lucy Williamson in Seoul.

 

One of the US targets named by Pyongyang was the Pacific island of Guam, which hosts a US military base. On Thursday, the US confirmed it would deploy a missile defence system to Guam in response to the threats.

 

South Korea's foreign minister told MPs on Thursday that the North had moved a missile to the east coast, which is the location for previous military tests.

 

Unconfirmed reports on Friday said the North had moved two missiles - thought to be mid-range Musudans, which are untested in flight but are thought to have the capacity to reach as far as Guam - and loaded them on to launchers.

 

Yonhap, the South Korean news agency, said that two warships equipped with Aegis defence systems would monitor the situation. Despite North Korea's belligerent rhetoric, it has not taken direct military action since 2010, when it shelled a South Korean island and killed four people.

 

But in recent weeks it has threatened nuclear strikes and attacks on the US and South Korea. It has announced a formal declaration of war on the South, and pledged to reopen a mothballed nuclear reactor in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions.

 

Many of North Korea's angry statements have cited the annual military exercises between US and South Korean forces as provocation. The US flew nuclear-capable B2 and B52 bombers over the South as part of the drill, and has since deployed warships with missile defence systems to the region.

 

North Korea's official media say the US is surrounding the peninsula with a nuclear threat from land, sea and air. Quotes from unnamed Pentagon officials suggest Washington is now questioning whether some of its actions may have contributed to the tension, with CNN quoting one official as saying the US would try to "turn the volume down" on its rhetoric.

 

Meanwhile, retired Cuban leader Fidel Castro has urged restraint on the Korean Peninsula in his first newspaper "reflections" piece for nine months.

 

Writing of the wider impact that a nuclear war could unleash in Asia and beyond, Mr Castro said Havana had always been and would continue to be an ally of North Korea, but asked it to consider the interests of its friends.

 

In recent weeks, the North has shut down an emergency military hotline between Seoul and Pyongyang and stopped South Koreans from working at a joint industrial complex in the North.

 

The Kaesong complex, one of the last remaining symbols of co-operation between the neighbours, is staffed mainly by North Koreans but funded and managed by South Korean firms.

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-22045245

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Seems like an actually nice weekend. Washington being friendly and canceling on of their tests, North Korea has nothing really to contribute to further tension, and one South Korean worker actually got back over the border for medical care.

 

Now only on the 15th April the 101st birthday of I think Kim Il Sung, the founder of their country, at the end of April the end of the US-South Korea military exercises and I think we should be back to normal.

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North Korea fuels ballistic missile, ready for launch

 

The Voice of Russia - 10th April 2013

 

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North Korea has completed fueling its “Musudan” medium-range ballistic missile, and is ready to launch it any moment, report Japanese media.

 

Earlier, Japanese military sources reported detecting up to seven mobile units mounted with various range ballistic missiles on the North Korean coast.

 

Meanwhile, the South Korean government has appealed to Russia and China to their influence with North Korea for defusing tensions on the Korean peninsula.

 

The South Korean Defence Ministry has said that several more missiles of shorter ranger, Scud and Nodong, are ready for launch in the same area in Kangwon Province.

 

Musudan missiles can reach Japan and the US Pacific island of Guam. The North Korean mass media have thus far failed to make any mention of a likely missile launch.

 

The media in North Korea is instead focused on preparations for the main national holiday, - Kim Il Sung’s birthday, that’s due to be widely celebrated on April 15th . Foreign Embassies and international organization offices continue working in Pyongyang as usual.

 

North Korea deploys seven mobile missile launchers

 

Up to seven mobile units with ballistic missiles of various range, from 300 km to over 3,000 km have been detected on the east coast of North Korea. They can be launched simultaneously or in succession over several days, starting from today, military sources said in Tokyo.

 

Besides the two mobile launchers with medium-range Musudan missiles detected on the east coast of the country, missile units have been moved to the coast of Hamgyong Province in the northeast of the country, with “Scud” ballistic missiles with a range of up to 500 km, and “Nodong” missiles with a 1.3 thousand kilometer range mounted on about five mobile launchers.

 

Border crossing between N.Korea and China shut to tourists

 

A key border crossing between North Korea and China been closed to tourist groups, a Chinese official said Wednesday as nuclear tensions mounted, but business travel was allowed to continue.

 

An official at the Dandong Border Office, who declined to give his name, told AFP: "Travel agencies are not allowed to take tourist groups to go there, since the North Korean government is now asking foreign people to leave. As far as I know, business people can enter and leave North Korea freely."

 

Earlier, Pyongyang advised all foreigners to “consider leaving South Korea”, warning that the Korean peninsula was headed for "thermo-nuclear" war.

 

An AFP photographer at the border on Wednesday saw cars and a larger vehicle passing over the bridge crossing the Yalu River that marks the frontier, in both directions.

 

China is North Korea's sole major ally and the provider of the vast majority of its trade and aid, with most of the business passing through Dandong.

 

North Korea could test fire missiles at any time – U.S. officials

 

The U.S. administration says that based on recent intelligence it's likely North Korea may test fire mobile ballistic missiles at any time, reports CNN. Earlier it was announced that a missile might be launched in the direction of Japan. Pyongyang has most probably completed launch preparations, said a U.S. official Tuesday.

 

Most of the information comes from satellite imagery, so it's impossible to reach a definitive conclusion because the U.S. has no means to gather information on the ground.

 

On Tuesday Adm. Samuel J. Locklear, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, confirmed that Pyongyang had loaded a medium-range ballistic missile onto mobile launchers at an "unidentified" facility near the east coast.

 

He said the Pentagon would shoot down such a missile if its calculated flight trajectory would be potentially threatening for the U.S. or its allies.

 

Meanwhile, South Korea does not exclude the likelihood that North Korea might test-launch several such missiles from a number of diverse facilities in the country.

 

Moscow presses for calming the situation on the Korean Peninsula

 

Moscow will seek to normalize the situation on the Korean peninsula, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. "We are confident that the situation is serious. Nuclear tests and missile launches are not jokes."

 

However, the rhetoric also plays as just harmful role because mutual accusations, threats and warnings might reach a critical level when people drive themselves into a corner, and they will have to show something to the public opinion, Lavrov said in an interview with RTVi TV channel.

 

He urged not to escalate emotions over the situation linked with North Korea and diplomatically try to reach an agreement on the resumption of six-country talks.

 

At present, Russia is working with other countries of the group of six, Lavrov said.

 

Earlier this month, North Korea nullified Armistice with South Korea.

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  • 3 weeks later...

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North Korea sentences US citizen to 15 years' hard labour

 

North Korea says it has sentenced a US citizen to 15 years of hard labour.

 

The announcement, from state news agency KCNA, said Pae Jun-ho, known in the US as Kenneth Bae, was tried on 30 April. He was held last year after entering North Korea as a tourist. Pyongyang said he was accused of anti-government crimes. The move comes amid high tensions between North Korea and the US, after Pyongyang's third nuclear test.

 

North Korean media said last week that Mr Pae had admitted charges of crimes against North Korea, including attempting to overthrow the government. "The Supreme Court sentenced him to 15 years of compulsory labour for this crime," KCNA said.

 

Mr Pae, 44, was arrested in November as he entered the northeastern port city of Rason, a special economic zone near North Korea's border with China. On the face of it, North Korea's decision to sentence a US citizen to 15 years' hard labour seems to be a direct challenge to Washington: another twist in the cycle of actions and rhetoric that have helped keep relations so tense over the past two months.

 

But Mr Pae is not the first American citizen to be arrested or tried in North Korea. Over the past few years, Pyongyang has detained two American journalists, a businessman, an English teacher and an activist. Some were tried and sentenced to hard labour like Mr Pae. But all were released following negotiations - some of which involved unofficial visits by high-profile Americans like former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

 

So, while it may seem like another irritant to relations with Washington, the announcement of Mr Pae's conviction might actually be an attempt to draw US negotiators - even unofficial ones - to Pyongyang. That would give North Korea a domestic propaganda victory, and it might also pave the way for more broader, more official, talks on the wider issues.

 

At the moment, North Korea is being offered talks on American terms - which include a commitment to dismantle its nuclear weapons programme. This is one way the regime can get a high-profile visitor to Pyongyang without any conditions at all.

 

He is believed to be a tour operator of Korean descent. The Associated Press news agency also reports that he is described by friends as a devout Christian. South Korean activists say Mr Pae may have been arrested for taking photos of starving children in North Korea.

 

"We call on the DPRK [North Korea] to release Kenneth Bae immediately on humanitarian grounds," US State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said on Monday.

 

Diplomats from Sweden, which represents the US in North Korea in the absence of diplomatic ties, had been providing counsel to Mr Pae, reports said. The US State Department was working with the Swedish embassy to confirm the report of the sentencing, AP reported.

 

North Korea has arrested several US citizens in recent years, including journalists and Christians accused of proselytism. They were released after intervention from high-profile American figures, including former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, both of whom went to Pyongyang.

 

In 2009, Mr Clinton negotiated the release of two US journalists accused of entering North Korea illegally, Laura Ling and Euna Lee. Held after North Korea's second nuclear test, both had been sentenced to 12 years of hard labour before they were released.

 

Observers suggest Pyongyang could be using the jailed American as leverage, amid a very tense situation on the Korean peninsula. The UN expanded sanctions against the communist state in March, in the wake of its 12 February nuclear test and December long-range rocket launch.

 

Pyongyang reacted angrily both to the measures and annual US-South Korea military exercises which saw high-profile displays of US military hardware. It threatened to attack US military bases around the region and cut key hotlines with South Korea.

 

It also withdrew its workers from the North-South joint industrial zone at Kaesong, and prevented South Korean workers from crossing the border into the zone. The North then rejected South Korea's call for talks, prompting Seoul to pull its staff out for the first time since the project was launched a decade ago.

 

A total of 125 South Koreans left the Kaesong complex on Saturday, and another 43 withdrew on Monday. Only seven South Koreans remain at Kaesong, a complex just inside North Korea where more than 120 South Korean firms operate using North Korea workers.

 

Seoul says they are negotiating final wage payments and should be returning South soon. The South Korean government has pledged 300bn won ($273m, £175m) in emergency loans for firms hit by the suspension at Kaesong.

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-22377678

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