NKorea threatens to attack SKorean leader's office

November 24, 2011 - 12:05 AM
APTOPIX South Korea Koreas Clash

South Korean marines stand during a rally denouncing North Korea on Yeonpyeong Island, South Korea, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2011. South Korea marked the first anniversary of the North's deadly artillery attack on the front-line island on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea threatened Thursday to turn Seoul's presidential palace office into a "sea of fire," stepping up its rhetoric one day after South Korea conducted large-scale military drills near a front-line island attacked by North Korea last year.

On Wednesday, South Korea mobilized aircraft, rocket launchers, artillery guns and naval boats for the first anniversary of the artillery attack on a military garrison and fishing community on Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea. Two marines and two construction workers were killed in the attack, the first on civilians since the 1950-53 Korean War.

A similar "sea of fire" threatens to engulf Seoul's presidential Blue House if South Korean forces fire a single shot into North Korean territory, the North's military warned in Pyongyang. The statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency was typical of the threats the North has made over the years at times of tension between the two Koreas.

The Korean peninsula remains in a technical state of war because their conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. However, North Korea disputes the maritime border drawn by the U.N. in 1953, and the waters have been a flashpoint for violence over the years.

Pyongyang accuses Seoul of provoking last year's attack, saying it struck after warning the South not to hold live-fire drills in the disputed waters.

Since then, South Korea has spent millions of dollars beefing up its arsenal. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Jung Seung-jo said his forces would "crush the enemy" if they strike again.

Wednesday's maneuvers took place off Baengnyeong Island, South Korean-held territory near the maritime border. The drills were meant to send a strong message to North Korea but did not include live-fire exercises, military officials said.

Relations between the two Koreas sank to the their lowest point in years in 2010 after two incidents: the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island and the sinking of a South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors. Pyongyang denies involvement in the sinking.

However, there have been some signs tensions are easing, with both sides seeking to discuss ways to resume nuclear disarmament-for-aid talks and allowing South Korea's religious and cultural figures to travel to North Korea.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said Wednesday during a visit to a military command that he was sorry North Korea had not yet apologized for the shelling. He said Pyongyang must apologize if it wants relations to improve.